Philadelphia Dance Project talks with choreographer Tommie-Waheed Evans

4 minute read
Tommie-Waheed Evans' discussion is part of PDP's Informance series. (Photo by Bill Herbert.)
Tommie-Waheed Evans' discussion is part of PDP's Informance series. (Photo by Bill Herbert.)

When the theaters closed six months ago, Philadelphia Dance Project’s director, Terry Fox, said she was concerned for the artists. “I was trying to figure out, what could we do that could support artists.” The answer was Informances, a program PDP started about 10 years ago. “We have a very small budget,” she said. “We couldn’t afford to have somebody come in from New York or somewhere and perform a full work, so we said, why don’t you just come and talk about it, and show work.”

The format allowed artists to structure the evening any way they wanted. They would talk about their work, show some videos or perform some examples of their choreography—a solo, or they’d bring another dancer. It introduced audiences to choreographers whose work they might not otherwise experience and gave them an up-close look at the process. The Informance program seemed like the perfect way to reach audiences online. Zoom even gave audiences a way to interact with the artists and ask them questions. The Zoom series started off with a local favorite, Megan Mazarack. Next up, on Wednesday, October 14, is Tommie-Waheed Evans.

Feels like Home

PDP commissioned a project from Evans for the spring, but Fox has had her eye on his work since she saw him at a PHILADANCO! event for young choreographers in the company. In 2006, she invited him to do a piece for the Wilma’s DanceBoom festival. “He has that PHILADANCO! standard in a certain way—a quality of performance, but he takes on very challenging scores musically. He takes on interesting texts and the work is really relevant,” Fox said.

Evans said of that early experience, “I remember just being a part of that festival and feeling like my life has shifted on this road. And so many years later now we’ve been in collaboration...and I am so excited that she gave me a space to ramble.”

WaheedWorks dancers Tony Bobby Rhodes and Antonio Wright will also be part of the conversation. (Photo by Contigo Photos + Films.)
WaheedWorks dancers Tony Bobby Rhodes and Antonio Wright will also be part of the conversation. (Photo by Contigo Photos + Films.)

That collaboration is Home, a work in progress, and the Zoom audience will have a front-row seat on the process as Evans discusses his earlier work (BSR reviewed his In Between the Passing in 2017) and muses about the new piece. He is still thinking through the ideas he wants to communicate in the piece, he says. Evans started with the broad concept of race and identity, but increasingly he is grappling with ideas about queerness and Blackness, about liberation and visibility and inclusion: “What does it mean for me, personally, to be an activist? Like, right now there’s this movement, Black Lives Matter," he said. "And also a site of change is the movement of Black Trans Lives Matter, and how can they both exist together. When we speak of one, how can we speak of both? I feel that as a Black gay man it is my issue alongside heterosexual issues.”

In the spirit of it all

Tough, thoughtful, issues, but Fox adds that the work is not pedantic or pedagogic. “It is more spiritual. He has this wonderful way of bringing it around to what is really true and real about life,” she said.

Which makes sense. Evans, himself, is a spiritual person. “When I was growing up, in high school, I was always in choir, so when I first started choreographing, the influence of the Black Church, religion, was really evident in my work,” he said. Evans has another new piece, Sermon on the Mount, in the works for 2022.

WaheedWorks dancers Antonio Wright and Tony Bobby Rhodes will join the discussion, and Evans will show excerpt footage of rehearsal and a duet the dancers have performed over the past year that will form a part of the longer work.

Future PDP Informances include evenings with Dr. Lynn Matluck Brooks, dance historian and founder of the dance program at Franklin and Marshall College, choreographer Christopher Williams, and choreographer and videographer Amalia Colon-Nava.

What, When, Where, and Accessibility:

Philadelphia Dance Projects presents an Informance with Tommie-Waheed Evans on Wednesday, October 14, at 7pm. This is a free event via Zoom. RSVP by email, [email protected], to receive the access link.

Image description 1: A medium close-up shot of Tommie-Waheed Evans using his hands to demonstrate a movement, with a mostly out-of-focus backdrop

Image description 2: Two dancers rehearse on stage, with one person holding up the other who appears to be stumbling or falling backwards.

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