Okwui Okpokwasili Receives a MacArthur "Genius" Grant
Okwui Okpokwasili just got $625,000 richer. The MacArthur Foundation announced its 2018 class of Fellows today, and the genre-defying choreographer was the only dance artist included alongside scientists, activists and writers. According to The New York Times, she got the call telling her the news on her way to the laundromat.
Colloquially referred to as the "genius" grant, MacArthur Fellowships are notoriously mysterious—the selection process and the people who do the choosing are tightly-held secrets—and can be game-changing. The $625,000 comes with no strings attached and is distributed over five years—a huge boon for dance artists more used to working grant to grant. Okpokwasili is one of less than two dozen dance artists who have received the distinction, a rarefied group that includes Kyle Abraham, Michelle Dorrance, Paul Taylor and Yvonne Rainer.
Photo courtesy C4 Global Communications
The citation for Okpokwasili reads, "Making visible the interior lives of women whose stories of resistance and resilience have been left out of dominant cultural narratives." This is a description that should come as no surprise to anyone who has encountered her work, in particular her Bessie Award–winning Bronx Gothic. The 90-minute solo, an intense exploration of black girlhood, loosely based on Okpokwasili's childhood in the Bronx, is a tour de force that has toured the U.S., and was transformed into a critically-lauded documentary of the same name.
Join us in wishing her congratulations!
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Michele Byrd-McPhee's uncle was a DJ for the local black radio station in Philadelphia, where she was born. As a kid she was always dancing to the latest music, including a new form of powerful poetry laid over pulsing beats that was the beginning of what we now call hip hop.
Byrd-McPhee became enamored of the form and went on to a career as a hip-hop dancer and choreographer, eventually founding the Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival and directing the New York City chapter of Everybody Dance Now!. Over the decades, she has experienced hip hop's growth from its roots in the black community into a global phenomenon—a trajectory she views with both pride and caution.
On one hand, the popularity of hip hop has "made a global impact," says Byrd-McPhee. "It's provided a voice for so many people around the world." The downside is "it's used globally in ways that the people who made the culture don't benefit from it."
Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.
Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:
Every dancer knows there's as much magic taking place backstage as there is in what the audience sees onstage. Behind the scenes, it takes a village, says American Ballet Theatre's wig and makeup supervisor, Rena Most. With wig and makeup preparations happening in a studio of their own as the dancers rehearse, Most and her team work to make sure not a single detail is lost.
Dance Magazine recently spoke to Most to find out what actually goes into the hair and makeup looks audiences see on the ABT stage.