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This past weekend, five student artists brought their works-in-process to the stage of the UNC Process Series, which showcases new works as they are brought to fruition. In two performances, four new works-in-process were previewed, and in a variety of formats, from dance to Readers' Theatre. Joseph Megel, artistic director of the Process Series, and director Heather Tatreau hosted the evening, presenting four shows as well as a post-show talkback session, so that these four artists could ask questions of the audience in an effort to see if what they intended was coming across the footlights.
The first show was a storytelling by Imani Williams, which she titled Beyond the Roots. Williams recreated for us the feeling in the spring of 2009 when her family traveled from Atlanta to Washington, D.C. for the inauguration of Barack Obama. She spoke of her family members, and of how she, her sister, and her older brother all felt the power of Obama's slogan, "Yes, we can!" It instilled in them a feeling of hope for the country and for the future.
Fast-forwarding to the summer of 2020, Williams recalled the death of Treyvon Martin, a 17-year-old who was killed, it seemed, for no other reason than the color of his skin. She also recounted the anger she saw surrounding Colin Kaepernick, an NFL player who knelt in protest of the deaths of young Black men, and the feeling that people were getting away with murder. Williams also remembered being a young girl more concerned with the joy of the father/daughter dance, the evening she got her father all to herself, and "danced the night away." The contrast brought her to a realization: "I love a country that doesn't love me." She told of visiting an exhibit commemorating the Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-Ins. Sitting at a replica of the Woolworth's lunch counter, she wore headphones that forced the words of the encounter into her head, the epithets and the threats. But she warned us that all of these horrors cannot be relegated to the past. They are still here, still new. Williams' work drove home the point that they are happening today.
The second show was a dance number in three parts, choreographed by Anabelle and Rainey Scarborough. In Part I, we saw a young woman in a blue leotard who danced a dance of pain. In her movement, we saw sorrow, despair, and loss, but she danced through these emotions, driving on toward a feeling of solace and a sense of hope. In Part II, we saw the same dancer in another mode, alive and dancing steadily. We watched and saw how each movement and gesture was tight and controlled, with the will of the dancer in complete command of her body and its moveable parts: the arched foot, the outstretched arm, they were all a part of the whole. Then, in Part III, we were completely taken aback when we suddenly saw two dancers, identical, from garb to hair to facial expression, and we realized that these two dancers were identical twins, and that the two prior parts of this trio were danced by two separate dancers. It was both stunning and thrilling to witness.
In the third work, we were treated to a staged reading of a new play, Act I of Smirit Se, created by Grace Yannotta. In it, we met the Pavelski family, specifically, two brothers who migrate from their Prague home to Iowa to study. The central character, Branislav (Spencer Ellis), discussed his time at school with his roommate, Ara (Cullen Keogh); his older brother, Teodor (Naveed Moeed); and a young farmer he met at the farmer's market, Adeline (Vivian Bunker). By the close of Act I (which is all we got to see), Branislav has married Adeline, had a son, and plans to return home to Prague to find Teodor, his new bride and family, and their mother, Cilka (Jennifer Daly). After meeting and coming to know this family, we found ourselves anxious to find out how this brood fares, news of their new lives in Prague, and what develops. During the ensuing post-reading discussion, when asked how the play ended, host Megel kept Yanotta from answering right away before we had examined one or two salient points, in order to build the suspense. Yanotta then answered the question, telling us that the ending was one of "hopeful melancholy."
The fourth play returned us to storytelling. Writer and performer AhDream Smith moved back in time through her own life and into the lives of her ancestors, most notably her great-great-grandfather, John Natus Davis. While we witnessed this reconnection with her past, Smith acquainted us with another of her clan, an old grandmother confined to a wheelchair, a character which she donned easily simply by slipping on a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles. Hearing the story this grandmother had to tell, we saw the contrast between Smith, a young woman looking forward to her life, and this old woman who looked back on her own. It was a striking contrast. In a multi-media presentation, we got to see a number of pictures of her family, as well as a picture of her family crest. She told us that she is part of the legacy of John Natus Davis and that through her, her family will continue.
In the space of only a couple of hours at the Process Series' presentation of new and developing works, we got to travel many different paths, back through many different classes, cultures, and histories. The show was a series of surprises, both theatrical and historical. These four stories are not over, though. Through the Process Series, during the rest of the 2022 spring semester, these stories will be told in more detail. To find out more, check out the Process Series website or stay tuned to CVNC's calendar for more upcoming performances.