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Arts & Culture

Arts Showcase Calls for R&R: Risk and Regeneration

Three-day BlackLight Summit Brings Underrepresented Dance Artists Together to Reimagine the Future

By Jessica Weiss ’05

Symara Johnson dances with lasso

BlackLight Summit artist Symara Johnson will present her work “Symara and her Lasso,” in which she uses the iconic cowboy accoutrement to connect with and explore her family lineage in the U.S. West and South.

Photo by Olga Rabetskaya

Given that hard times can breed incredible innovation and resilience, contemporary dance artist Tariq O’Meally is hopeful about what arises from the “series of injuries” we’ve all lived through in recent years.

Thursday through Saturday, attendees of the third-annual BlackLight Summit, presented by The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, will explore this possibility through performances, workshops and panel discussions that look at how dance and movement can galvanize inventiveness in the process of recovery and rebuilding—such as from the COVID-19 pandemic and enduring racial injustice. The summit, which blends in-person and virtual events, is focused on “emerging BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ artists and others who live within the margins” but is open to anyone.

“We’re developing a village and using art to draw people together,” said O’Meally, who is part of the programming team at The Clarice and lead curator of BlackLight Summit: “Realizing that in these fraught and difficult times, we still exist and there’s still a space to create and design the future, the world we want to live in, and not just feel a sense of powerlessness.”

Washington, D.C.-based artists Shanice Mason and Jamison Curcio will present “I Have a Secret to Tell You…,” which focuses on the theme of Black women and femmes—queer people who present in a feminine manner—“taking up space,” Curcio said. It contains multiple elements beyond a dance piece, including an exhibition and pre-show talk, as well as opportunities for audience participation.

“Black women and femmes are the tools—and always have been the tools—for this country and for the world, they have been just erased and corrupted and colonized and all of those things,” said Curcio, who works at Dance Place in Washington, D.C. “The piece gives people a taste of all we are and that we can do.”

Brooklyn-based artist Symara Johnson will present her work “Symara and her Lasso,” in which she traverses various aspects of cowboy culture. After teaching herself to lasso using YouTube videos during the COVID-19 lockdown, Johnson began to use the rope to connect with and explore her family lineage in the U.S. West and South.

“I’ve been learning [lasso] mostly online from white men … so it’s definitely feeling like new territory for a Black woman,” Johnson said. “I’m like a lone ranger, wondering if there’s a community for me in this. And I think there is.”

The summit culminates in a celebratory drag show on Saturday night at Dance Place, which O’Meally said epitomizes the creative possibilities inherent in dance: the event will be “a recognition of what art is and what it can be,” affirming that the “future is Black, queer and beautiful.”

Mason, who has been attending BlackLight since its first year, said she’s looking forward to returning to a “space of joy and community and celebration.”

“It just feels like a big old cookout, a moment where everyone can come together,” she said.

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