Chanon Judson led off with a twisting vertical solo while the names of
notable African Americans throughout history were narrated, a list that
included recently shot and killed unarmed young black men. The other
five women of the troupe formed a military drill of sorts in 4/4
cadence, calling out drill commands, not taking it too seriously. They
turned to us, asking, "Y'all ready?" and announced, "Urban Bush Women
are in the house!" A delightful and varied demonstration of botty, the Jamaican term for "shake your booty," closed the piece.
Choreographer Nora Chipaumire reworked her 2005 Dark Swan
for several companies to the familiar Camille St. Sans score for "The
Dying Swan." The UBW version had me near tears as the dancers began
trembling for minutes before beginning a difficult reverse bourre on
their heels. The raw symbolism of this negative of the white swan
romantically roaming the stage en pointe as she dies created one of the
most poignant dance moments I've seen.
Not only didn't these women die - they also lived again in the next section, to dance to Maria Callas' "Casta Diva" from Norma,
again cheating another white, romantic death. Slipping hands down the
front or backs of their costumes, cupping breasts and genitals, sexy
without really being lewd, they were paragons of feminine strength and
In 2014's Hep Hep Sweet Sweet, set in a Kansas
City nightclub, Tendayi Mas sang as powerfully as she danced. Singing
and dancing the stories of the Great Migration north from the Jim Crow
South, she was joined by Courtney J. Cook, Du'Bois A'Keen, and indie
jazz vocalist Pyeng Threadgill. The night was a roller coaster of pain
wrung out with joy, middle fingers upraised.