Creative Exchange for Social Change: Performance Art on Student Day of Poetry

 

Imagine a program that combines classical culture and street culture,  that takes in hip hop, poetry, violins, rap and dance. That’s Hoop Suite, a program planned for presentation this summer and fall on the basketball courts of Boston’s inner city and the Institute of Contemporary Art Theater on October 11, 12, and 13. But the dancer and choreographer Anna Myer is bringing an excerpt from the longer piece to Student Day of Poetry on Friday, March 30, at MIT.

 

The program is a brainchild of two dynamic forces, Jay Paris of the North American Family Institute (NAFI) and Myer. NAFI is multi-faceted human services agency dedicated to serving youth, adults and families with the goal of helping clients grow and change in order to better their lives and the world around them. One of Paris’s projects brought the police together with community kids on the basketball courts of Boston to build and strengthen understanding between the sometimes adversarial groups. Hoop Suite, with Myer’s help, furthers that program by using art as a way of getting people to talk to each other across cultures. Especially young people. (See an excerpt from a promotional video.)

 

The dynamics of cultural mix

Myer has been interested in opening her dance world to the wider forces in the culture since she was a child. “I listened to Martin Luther King when I was young, but I was too little to be a part of that movement.” One of the aspects of the Civil Right movement that appealed to her was the dynamics of the cultural mix.

 

This desire to include others extended to all the players in the cultural scene. “I used to feel sorry for the musicians in a dance program. They were as much a part of the evening as the dancers, but they were hidden in the orchestra pit. I wanted the audience to see the whole ensemble.”

 

Hoop Suite brings to the stage a mingling of violinists strolling the stage with rappers, hip hop dancers and Myer’s classically trained dancers, the Russian composer Jakov Jakoulov, who creates the bold music for the occasion, with poets. All are on stage – black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Russian – and all are interacting with each other.

 

Creative exchange for social change

“The piece is about change,” says Myer. The change she is talking about is both personal and communal through sharing ideas and breaking down barriers. One of the mottos of Hoop Suite as well as an earlier piece called Street Talk, Suite Talk is “Creative exchange for social change.”

Myer admits that the program has been life changing for her. As someone trained in classical dance she finds herself altered by the interaction with a wide mix of experiences. ”Kids are talking about themselves and they have something important to say,” she says. She finds herself revitalized by seeing the change in students. “When kids perform before an audience, they are often doing something they are scared of, and when they work through their fears, they feel great. It’s wonderful to see a shy kid bloom in a supportive atmosphere. The experience changes not only the shy kid but people like me who watch and support.”

 

Myer explains that when she works with students, usually they give her their poetry and rap, and “I make a dance out of it, and Jakov makes music out of it.”

 

She explains further, “The whole process has made me much more open, much more trusting. Collaboration is about letting go of control and being open to the experience of others.”

 

“Kids have something to say . . .

For Student Day of Poetry, Myer hopes the audience will feel the experience of the group and listen to what the kids have to say. “We want to project to them the hope, angers, and delicacy of our project together. This is not just hip hop or modern dance. We hope they will hear the tears and the joy in the lives of these students. Life is hard right now for many. People are angry and sad, but these kids have something to say about how to make our world better.”

 

If you are a teacher, register your students now for Student Day of Poetry on March 30 at MIT so that they can see the power of the spoken word, music and dance.