The Creative Process

Gesel Mason is Preserving the Legacy of Black Dance Online

James Fosberg, courtesy Mason

Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.

Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.


She recently spoke with Dance Magazine about how this project came to life and why she sees it as a necessity.

It started with an injury

"I ruptured my Achilles in July 2018. Something that became really apparent is that I can't do this forever. So how do we continue to share important works with a wide audience?"

What it's like to take on foreign challenges

"I'm getting into the nitty-gritty of bringing a digital dance platform to life, from data management and website design to copyright issues. I'm in new territory. It's exciting, talking to librarians and data management people, archivists, performance study theorists and scholars."

Mason in Jawole Willa Jo Zollar's Bent

Amitava Sarkar

Her goal is to make it as close to the live experience as possible

"I want to keep the body and live performance a major part of the archive. I also want scholarly articles, pictures and drawings from rehearsals, dance films, gallery visits and even holograms! What would it be like to walk into the space and be in rehearsal with me and Rennie Harris, or see an interview with Donald McKayle?"

Why her focus is on black choreographers

"I'm fascinated by articles that discuss why oppressed folks need space for themselves. The necessity keeps showing up. People are ready to try something new. It showed up in the recent midterm elections with so many firsts, from age and cultural background to gender.

"Now I'm brewing a new dance project that centers on African-American women, dancers, musicians and video designers. What happens when you don't have to be in a constant state of code switching?

"It's important to think about the impact of the work we're making, the bodies that we're using and the audiences it is for. No Boundaries re-centers conversations around African-American choreographers, so instead of saying, 'Please include this in the dance canon,' it's like, 'No, shift the whole thing.' What happens when we look at these choreographers for the impact that they're making on the field?"

She believes dance artists can do so much more

"Artists are used to making something out of nothing. We have a lot to offer in this moment, in boardrooms, academic spaces and our communities. I'm listening to all of these things."

In Memoriam
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle at New York's Metropolitan Opera House, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

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