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‘A Rose Out of Concrete’

The Boston Conservatory debuts multidisciplinary Afrofuturistic project

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
‘A Rose Out of Concrete’
Hank Shocklee, Nona Hendryx and Duane Lee Holland Jr. supervise a rehearsal of “A Rose Out of Concrete.” Photo: Kelly Davidson

The Boston Conservatory at Berklee’s 2018 “Limitless” spring dance concert ran last weekend with a special twist. The program of five modern dance pieces included a multidisciplinary, Afrofuturistic project made in collaboration with pop icon Nona Hendryx, music producer and 2013 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Hank Shocklee and Boston Conservatory hip-hop teacher Duane Lee Holland Jr.

“A Rose Out of Concrete,” inspired by the work of the same name by Tupac Shakur, featured hip-hop choreography in tandem with a multimedia installation, spoken word and vocals.

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“Since the merger between Berklee and the Boston Conservatory, we’ve been working on a project to solidify the relationship,” says Hendryx, Berklee’s ambassador for artistry in education since 2011. Hendryx created the vocal arrangement for the piece based on poetry by Boston area spoken word artist Soulflower. She says the narrative follows an androgynous being coming into the world and learning to own their own power despite adversity.

In a press release, Shocklee offered a similar description: “This performance piece is an experiment in creative manipulation of sound, creative manipulation of body and creative manipulation of technology; it is a three-part movement through angst, healing and inspiration and a voyage through futurism.”

Two triangular screens on either side of the stage broadcast abstract visuals and sounds throughout the performance. These stimuli were produced by the movements of the dancers on stage and projected by software developed by Berklee professors Dr. Richard Boulanger and Nikhil Singh and a team of students from the school’s electronic production and design department. Unseen by the audience, 12 computers on the catwalk above the theater interpreted the kinetic data of the dancers into audio and visual artwork.

This technological component further underscores Hendryx’s message of a person taking control of their own circumstances and forging a unique path. The dancers physically manifested that message by creating their own unique artwork. She says, “The technology we are using in the show illustrates that we are the important element, the human being.”

The performance also serves as a metaphor for students about to leave the insulated world of college to brave the art scene outside. Just as the principle dancer in “A Rose Out of Concrete” had to overcome struggle to find their identity, the graduating dancers will need to adapt to a new environment.

“So many things have happened in the last 10 years with young black men, movements like Black Lives Matter and the women’s movement,” Hendryx says. “From moment to moment and day to day, things change. You have to quickly make adjustments.”

a rose out of concrete, afrofuturistic, berklee, duane lee holland jr, hank shocklee, nona hendryx, soulflower, the boston conservatory, tupac shakur