It has been a long and arduous journey for African Americans in the United States.
In celebration of Black History Month, The Jamaica Performing Arts Center (JPAC) presented Amazing Grace: From the Auction to the White House.
The performance was a series of dance vignettes that depicted various stops in the journey of African Americans by the Vissi Dance Theater. There was the challenge of slavery, the clash between North and South, the triumph of freedom, the segregation of Jim Crow and the progress to today with the election of the first Black President. What a journey!
It began on the auction block with dancers exposed to degradation of lying naked for inspection on the block for the sale. In the background, a sound track of voices that howled out prices. They danced the pain of being torn from family, the fear of an unknown future and the incomprehensible belief of being brought and sold.
The audience was then transported to the plantation with owners paraded about proud and fancy while the slaves jockeyed around to meet their needs. Not everyone was happy with life on the plantation, and the vignette runaways took the audience on the run and to the brief glimpse of freedom.
Slavery wasn't easy for women. The scene ‘Violating Again’ brought that reality close to home in a gut wrenching dance of fear, abuse and possession against a soundtrack filled with soul stirring screams to an audience clutching its hearts.
North and South waged war against each other in a pop lock battle reminiscent of the various raw intense street dance fights. There is one winner and at that point the Confederate flag that framed the stage from high up in the rafters, suddenly falls in a well executed performance placement. Then there was celebration in Juneetenth with happy, exuberant dancers coming together en masse, optimistic of the future. The separation of Jim Crow put a halt to that jubilation as dancers were parted and forced to dance on their side.
The dark side of the journey was depicted with photographic postcards of lynchings and the narrative from the historian who questioned the sending of postcards and the posed images and happy crowds they portrayed during that horrific time.
It was Nina Simone ‘s haunting tune of ‘Strange Fruit’ with lyrics that spoke of the smell of magnolias and burning flesh that became the backdrop of an eloquent ballet of a torturous lynching. Such a piece made the joyous ending even more exuberant with a video montage of the historic election of the first Black President Barack Obama.
Headlines from around the world hailed the triumph win of the new President. People around the world celebrated. There were tears in the eyes of onlookers in the montage. The audience happily clapped along to the montage as Teddy Pendergrass sang the familiar ‘Wake Up Everybody’!
The world won’t get no better, if we just let it be
We gotta change it…just you me.
The finale was the high note to a journey’s end that left no room for sadness or bitterness only triumph and optimism. The entire company danced on stage expressing the joy of the journey that ends well. It was standing ovation time for a history well learned.
Amazing Grace was choreographed and directed by Courtney Ffrench and produced by the Vissi Dance Theater for JPAC.
JPAC is located at 153-01 Jamaica Avenue in the former Dutch Reformed Church.