Is “Parallels” About Race—or Culture—or Dance?

March 25, 2012

When Alvin Ailey started his company in 1959 to give black modern dancers a chance, he did a wonderful thing. A decade later, Arthur Mitchell did a fantastic thing when he started Dance Theatre of Harlem, a company for black ballet dancers. And in 1982, Ishmael Houston-Jones did a superb thing when he organized “Parallels,” a series for dance artists in the downtown mode at the Danspace Project.

This spring celebrates 30 years since “Parallels” with a two-month platform of the original Parallels group (which included Gus Solomons, Ralph Lemon, Bebe Miller, and Blondell Cummings) plus younger artists like Will Rawls, Nora Chipaumire, and Marya Wethers. Writer in residence Carl Paris is blogging about the performances and discussions here.

I’ve seen fabulous pieces on this series from Cynthia Oliver and Kyle Abraham (here’s my previous blog on him), but more to the point is that this has brought up questions that people are energetically discussing now. These questions are taking us beyond “What is black dance?” or “Is there such a thing as black dance?” and into a diversity of sensibilities. We get to see the explosion and spread of “black dance” or, just “dance.”

The accompanying booklet has a terrific essay by Ishmael, explaining his bold desire back in 1982. (It also has a remembrance by me of Harry Sheppard, my beloved friend who was part of the original Palallels but died of AIDS in the 90s.) The new Parallels series started February 2 and there’s one more week left. Join the conversation, check it out.