Gesel Mason is Preserving the Legacy of Black Dance Online
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
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."
It's a cycle familiar to many: First, a striking image of a lithe, impossibly fit dancer executing a gravity-defying développé catches your eye on Instagram. You pause your scrolling to marvel, over and over again, at her textbook physique.
Inevitably, you take a moment to consider your own body, in comparison. Doubt and negative self-talk first creep, and then flood, in. "I'll never look like that," the voice inside your head whispers. You continue scrolling, but the image has done its dirty work—a gnawing sensation has taken hold, continually reminding you that your own body is inferior, less-than, unworthy.
It's no stretch to say that social media has a huge effect on body image. For dancers—most of whom already have a laser-focus on their appearance—the images they see on Instagram can seem to exacerbate ever-present issues. "Social media is just another trigger," says Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with the dancers of Atlanta Ballet. "And dancers don't need another trigger." In the age of Photoshop and filters, how can dancers keep body dysmorphia at bay?
If "Fosse/Verdon" whet your appetite for the impeccable Gwen Verdon, then Merely Marvelous: The Dancing Genius of Gwen Verdon is the three-course meal you've been craving. The new documentary—available now on Amazon for rental or purchase—dives into the life of the Tony-winning performer and silver-screen star lauded for her charismatic dancing.
Though she's perhaps most well-known today as Bob Fosse's wife and muse, that's not even half of her story. For starters, she'd already won four Tonys before they wed, making her far more famous in the public eye than he was at that point in his career. That's just one of many surprising details we learned during last night's U.S. premiere of Merely Marvelous. Believe us: You're gonna love her even more once you get to know her. Here are eight lesser-known tidbits to get you started.
Every dancer knows that how you fuel your body affects how you feel in the studio. Of course, while breakfast is no more magical than any other meal (despite the enduring myth that it's the most important one of the day), showing up to class hangry is a recipe for unproductive studio time.
So what do your favorite dancers eat in the morning to set themselves up for a busy rehearsal or performance day?
When it comes to dance in the U.S., companies in the South often find themselves overlooked—sometimes even by the presenters in their own backyard. That's where South Arts comes in. This year, the regional nonprofit launched Momentum, an initiative that will provide professional development, mentorship, touring grants and residencies to five Southern dance companies.