Kenyetta has been bringing black dance to Indianapolis since 2005.
the past 10 years, Kenyetta Dance Company has used movement and a stage to discuss
local, even world events. Through their bodies, its dancers have engaged
audiences in conversations about the fires in South Africa, racism, domestic
violence, infidelity, homelessness, bullying and promiscuity.
they dance to speak of another topical issue.
still think that we're pretty unique," says Vanessa Owens, executive artistic
director and cofounder. "We have not been that company — even from Day One — to
put out an annual season of performances, only because we've become more of a project-based
company. We take on projects. We take on platforms."
click to enlarge
Courtesy Kenyetta Dance Company
Vanessa Owens is the executive artistic director, and co-founder, of Kenyetta Dance Company.
Labor Day weekend the contemporary modern dance company will mark its 10th
anniversary with a two-day performance celebrating Kenyetta's history, artistry
and dancers — many of whom are reuniting for this show.
will also tackle one of the most controversial topics in recent times: Black
Lives Matter, a
movement that focuses on the deaths of unarmed African-American men and women
at the hands of police or while in police custody.
anniversary show, entitled Black Dance
Matters, will feature some of Kenyetta's most popular works (Moody Blues, The RootsSuite and Skin Deep), and new pieces inspired by the
Black Lives Matter movement.
we did kind of take over the Black Lives Matter (name), but it seemed like the
appropriate title for the concepts and the choreography, and what we're trying
to say in this performance," says Owens, who started the company in 2004 with
her brother, dancer and choreographer Nicholas Owens. Kenyetta's first full
evening length performance was held in 2005.
topics the company tackles are often based on the conversations dancers have
when they're together, not necessarily firsthand experience.
lot of times it's dialogue, it's the things that we talk about," says Owens. "It's
easy to get everybody excited about these issues, even if everybody doesn't
necessarily have an opinion about them. It's easy to get them to say, 'This is
how we articulate how we feel about what this is and what it means.'"
truly voice their message, the movement has to come from a pure place.
Courtesy Kenyetta Dance Company
Black Dance Matters tackles one of the greatest racial issues of our time.
basically has to come from within, and it can't be fake.
It cannot be fake at all, because people can spot
that," says Owens. "You can tell it's real because the idea, the seed, is so
well planted that we can't do anything but be genuine when we're trying to give
you the story. We try to paint the canvas and get everybody to see what we're
trying to say. I don't think that you will find any fake emotion."
recalls a show when a Kenyetta dancer was so overcome with emotion that she began
sobbing on stage, while dancing.
idea, the emotion took over, and the people in the audience lost their minds,"
says Owens. "I could not believe it. It was a movement that even brought the
performer to tears."
emotion comes across whether they're tackling weighty issues or performing for
the sheer love of dance. The chemistry between the dancers, many who have been
together since they were children, adds to that feeling.
Kenyetta started, it was comprised of a group of
youth dancers. Now in their 20s, some are professional dancers, dance teachers,
choreographers and even a doctor.
Courtesy Kenyetta Dance Company
"We feel like if we present something that is appealing to young people ... we can incite a resurgence in young ladies and young men wanting to dance," says Owens.
feels so good to have everybody back together and to be celebrating 10 years of
Kenyetta," says Owens. "There are going to be some wonderful moments. I just
remember when we first started. Everybody is just doing wonderful things."
is especially proud that no matter their chosen profession, they have all
worked to keep dance — especially black dance — alive.
says part of Kenyetta's mission is to show young dancers of color that there's
a place for them within this art form, even if funding for black dance
companies is small, and the spaces for them in mainstream dance companies are
why presenting quality shows is so important.
feel like if we present something that is appealing to young people then maybe
we can incite a resurgence in young ladies and young
men wanting to dance," says Owens, whose daughter Lalah, a professional dancer
with PHILADANCO, will be part of the Kenyetta
of these young people (with Kenyetta) are classically trained or have trained
before, and they may have been the only African-American in their ballet class.
But the opportunities for them to get into some of those companies aren't there,
because they are looked over because their body type may not be what they are
says that hasn't stopped her dancers from staying connected to the art form
young people have not stopped dancing, because it's their outlet. Some of them
are moms, wives and professionals, and it's hard to not have an outlet for that
artist that you have always been."
there will be light moments in Black
Dance Matters, Owens believes some of the pieces have the potential to pull
at audience's heartstrings.
it's that emotional pull that one expects from a Kenyetta
always been known to be that one," says Owens. "We're still out here trying to
use the dance stage to articulate what's going on in our community."
Bio: Shelby Roby-Terry has worked as a journalist for more than 20 years and served as a reporter and editor at several papers throughout Indiana and New Orleans, Louisiana. She is founder and owner of The Forty Group, an Indianapolis-based PR, Marketing and Event Planning agency. During her spare time, Shelby...Shelby Roby-Terry has worked as a journalist for more than 20 years and served as a reporter and editor at several papers throughout Indiana and New Orleans, Louisiana. She is founder and owner of The Forty Group, an Indianapolis-based PR, Marketing and Event Planning agency. During her spare time, Shelby loves reading, traveling and hanging out with family and friends. She also volunteers throughout the community and serves on several boards for local not-for-profit agencies.more