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Dance for social justice

Three-part ‘Movement Series’ features powerful, thought-provoking performances

Susan Saccoccia

A recipient of NEA Arts Journalism fellowships in dance, theater and music, Susan reviews visual and performing arts in the U.S. and overseas.

Dance for social justice
Members of Sakofa Danzafro in “Accomodating Lie." PHOTO: COURTESY ELSIE MANAGEMENT

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater arrives in late April for an annual visit that has been hosted for the past five decades by the Celebrity Series of Boston. This year, the Celebrity Series is presenting the Ailey Company’s four-day residency as the finale of its new, three-part Movement Series.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Daniel Bernard Roumain. PHOTO: BETHANIE HINES

Conceived by the Celebrity Series to present works with the power to further public conversations about race, social justice and equity, the Movement Series also includes the Afro-Colombian dance company Sankofa Danzafro (Feb. 26 and 27); and the multimedia show “The Just and the Blind” (April 1 and 2).

“Ailey fans know the Celebrity Series for productions that they enjoy, and we hope this gives them the confidence to explore less-familiar works,” says Gary Dunning, president and executive director of the Celebrity Series, which is working with marketing consultant Nicola Williams to develop more diverse and inclusive audiences. Its Movement Series will include events to convene Greater Boston cultural leaders of color as well as public and school-based movement workshops.

At the Boch Center Shubert Theatre, Sankofa Danzafro performs “Accommodating Lie,” an hour-long work by company choreographer and founder Rafael Palacios. Last year, Palacios made his Celebrity Series debut by orchestrating “Black Voices Boston,” an online presentation of stories told in movement by seven local dancers. In his new work, his ensemble dances to live drums, flute, marimba and vocals, exploring stereotypes and falsehoods about Black bodies and the meaning of being of African descent.

A member of Sakofa Danzafro in “Accomodating Lie. PHOTO: COURTESY ELSIE MANAGEMENT

Staged at the Emerson Paramount Center, “The Just and the Blind” is an evening-length program that through poetry, music, dance, photography and animation plumbs the dual crises of aggressive policing and prison over-sentencing, and the resulting separations of Black fathers and sons.

Conceived, written and narrated by spoken-word poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph, with live original music by Massachusetts composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, the show sold out its Carnegie Hall premiere. The artistic interplay was described by The New Yorker as “a viscerally eloquent partnership, infusing artistic expression with social activism.” The New York Times praised the show as a “raw, cry from the soul new work … driven by Mr. Joseph’s stinging, brilliant words.”   

Directed by Michael John Garcés, the program also draws together the talents of filmmaker Yoram Savion, whose collaborators include Bill T. Jones, Savion Glover and Lady Gaga; Boston-based vocalist Débo Ray, a Grammy nominee; and flexography master King Havoc.

From April 28 through May 1, the Boch Center Wang Theatre hosts the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. While every program concludes with founder Alvin Ailey’s beloved signature work, “Revelations,” the company will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its current artistic director, Robert Battle, with new productions of Ailey classics and Boston premieres, including works by Battle. Programs may include his intense “Mass” (2004) as well as “Lazarus,” by hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris, the company’s first two-act ballet. The work is inspired by the life and times of Alvin Ailey, who founded this company in 1958 facing racial inequities that persist today.