Queens College professor premieres “Action Songs/Protest Dances”

Telling stories of racial injustice through dance

By Stephanie Meditz

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After a two-year creative process conducted via Zoom, Kupferberg Center for the Arts will host the world premiere of Edisa Weeks’ “Action Songs/Protest Dances.”

“Action Songs/Protest Dances” is a live performance that combines original music by Martha Redbone, Spirit McIntyre and Taina Asili with modern dance to tell stories of past and present racial injustice in America.

Three songs incorporate Queens College Professor Edisa Weeks’ research on civil rights activist James Forman, especially his book, “The Making of Black Revolutionaries.”

Edisa Weeks is a Brooklyn-based choreographer, educator and director of DELIRIOUS Dance

The Queens College Rosenthal Library is home to an archive of Forman’s personal documents, including his FBI files, collection of political pamphlets and original drafts of his books.

Weeks was interested in researching Forman’s archive because of his critique of capitalism as an exploitative system.

“As a choreographer, I really believe in a researched performance process where it’s looking at history, looking at what has gone before and to bring it forward into the present. And so, for me, it’s been really satisfying to be able to do that with this project,” she said.

“What are things that James Forman cared about and how many of those issues like reparations are we still needing to address in America? And what are things that we actually have achieved?” she continued. “For me, as a Black woman, it would’ve been impossible for me to teach at Queens College 60 years ago, but now that’s something that’s actually possible because of the work and efforts that people like James Forman did.”

The other two songs reflect current social justice issues and were inspired by the chain of racial hate crimes in 2020, including the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

“I kept on wondering what is a way that I, as a choreographer, can lend a voice to a lot of the ferment or protest that was happening,” Weeks said. “Or just for America to be a just and truly great nation.”

Weeks’ choreography is inspired by African dances from her childhood and modern dance that she has studied.

The creative process paired each of the three composers with two dancers, and each group drew parallels between current social issues and relevant topics in James Forman’s archive.

Taina Asili wrote a song related to the idea in Forman’s “Black Manifesto” of financial reparations for direct descendants of enslaved people.

Composer Taina Asili wrote a song about financial reparations for descendants of enslaved people.

The song and accompanying choreography both incorporate Afro-Caribbean elements.

“Each song is unique to the dancer and also to the message of the song,” Weeks said.

This project began at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, so Weeks worked with the dancers and composers via Zoom until this September.

“I’ve had a month to work with the dancers and to choreograph, so it’s been a little intense and stressful,” she said. “However, also incredibly generative. I think, partially because we were in such a long gestation period, the dancers really are invested in the songs and the songs are coming from them.”

Weeks hopes that the performance will expose a new generation to James Forman’s ideas and motivate people to strive for justice in their communities.

“I’m hoping people can…experience a work that engages song and lyrics and dance and be inspired,” she said.

“Action Songs/Protest Dances” is the inaugural work of the Kupferberg Arts Incubator, an initiative that began in 2020 to give professional artists who teach at Queens College a two-year residency.

“Without the immediate prospect of resuming live events, we decided that we wanted to devote significant resources and energy toward the development of new work, which obviously takes time,” Jon Yanofsky, Kupferberg Center for the Arts director, said.

KCA’s mission is to provide accessible cultural entertainment for both the Queens College community and the entire borough.

The Kupferberg Arts Incubator is geared toward artists of color, artists who live and work in communities of color and artists whose work addresses social inequities.

“We picked Edisa Weeks, a choreographer and professor that Kupferberg had the opportunity to work with on multiple occasions. She led the dance program at Queens College, and we were just all so impressed with the way she connected with students,” Yanofsky said. “She soundly met that criteria.”

“Edisa just has such a unique dynamic point of view and she pulls people along by the strength of her conviction, just her incredibly ebullient spirit and this collaborative nature that is truly authentic,” he continued. “It was really wonderful and refreshing to see the hard work that true collaboration requires…The piece is a composite of all the people involved.”

The Kupferberg Arts Incubator’s next iteration will be in 2024 with Queens College professor Chloe Bass.

Action Songs/Protest Dances will premiere at Kupferberg Center for the Arts on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 13 at 3 p.m.

Tickets are available for $20.

After each performance, audience members are invited to participate in a discussion with Weeks and the rest of the creative team.

Local gymnastics group performs at Barclays

Although the New York Liberty lost last Tuesday’s game against the Aces, another New York team walked out of Barclays Center victorious.

Students of Forest Hills Rhythmic Gymnastics & Dance gave the performance of a lifetime that evening, dazzling the audience with intricate choreography, captivating stage presence, and bendy poses that are enough to make you cramp up just looking at them.

Forest Hills Rhythmic Gymnastics & Dance

Forest Hills Rhythmic Gymnastics & Dance has been providing intensive physical education to the Forest Hills community since 1991—with rehearsals in the basement of the Forest Hills Jewish Center.

It is owned and operated by the Spivak family, who hails from Ukraine.

Dedicated to teaching girls ages 4-16, the studio places an emphasis on organization, discipline, and growing self esteem through the art form and sport of rhythmic gymnastics.

“Rhythmic gymnastics is an elegant, century-old women’s sport that comes from Eastern Europe where girls express themselves through music and choreographed routines. It is very different from traditional gymnastics—there are no bars, beams, vaults, or trampolines—instead, they use ropes, ribbons, balls, hula hoops, and batons,” Alex Spivak said.

“It’s a mix of dance, choreography, ballet and gymnastics,” he continued. “They don’t come to play, they come to work.”

The girls attend two-hour practices for several days each week, each class consisting of stretches, warm-ups, laps around the room, and practicing routines.

The routine performed at Barclays Center was choreographed by Mila Spivak, and has been in the works since January.

It consists of four songs, open floor, hula hoop, and rope sections. Each girl wore a different color bodysuit to bring a sea of color to the court, with their hair tightly wrapped into a bun—or else they would probably step on it.

Although there was the typical sense of nervous energy backstage, the girls were excited to perform the routine they worked so hard to perfect for months.

The Gymnastics & Dance team performs at Barclays Center during the NY Liberty game.

“I really like how much rhythmic gymnastics challenges me and motivates me to continue doing it. And the coaches are all really nice,” Elizabeth Velasco, an 11-year-old student of Forest Hills Rhythmic Gymnastics & Dance, said.

“When I watch the other girls who are way more professional, I say to myself, ‘I want to do that, too,’” she continued. “So then you keep on trying to do it, and next time I go to class I might try to learn that trick. You could end up doing it in one of the routines.”

“I think it’s really cool once you’ve been here for a couple of years, and then you tell a friend in school who doesn’t do gymnastics or isn’t flexible. When you show them a weird trick, it just completely freaks them out,” Leana Rogovskaya, 11, said. “It’s so much fun to see their reactions.”

Their coach, Mila Spivak, said that a lot of the young women who come into her studio often stay there for years, and eventually go on to become coaches themselves.

She takes much pride in her students and loves them like her own, keeping every gift, drawing, or personal item they give her forever.

“I am so proud of the girls; they did an amazing job,” Spivak said. “Some of them are five and six years old, and just started this year. It’s important that they listen to the music and work together.”

The girls were congratulated by all their supporters once they got off stage, and performed a group cheer to commemorate the moment.

Spivak informed them that they will start a brand new routine once summer vacation is over, and that they will all move up a level.

Beaming smiles and excited giggles filled the room.

Team poses for a group photo

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