yonTande Whitney V. Hunter
February 25, 2019
“Black Odyssey” reinforces the need for talent of color. There are creatives working today (really have always been) who need a talent pool of artists of color to bring their visions to life. The talent has always been there, however, the opportunities to show their talent in the professional arena have been stifled by the racist codes of our society. Artists of color working in the areas of television, film and the stage, have always had a variety of obstacles to overcome due to the societal laws and restrictions on them based solely on the color of their skin. The number of cultural biases that have existed in various entertainment and public cultural forums has in many ways forced the participation of artists of color to be non-existent or at least greatly guarded by white entertainers and producers.
Then there comes along a show that one cannot deny the explicit need for artists of color, especially African Americans and artists of the African diaspora. That show is “black Odyssey.” “Black Odyssey” is a time-traveling, fantastical journey through the African diaspora in word, music, song, and dance written by Marcus Gardley. The production that I had the privilege of working on as a choreographer for the Trinity Repertory Company was bravely and boldly co-directed by two black male company members Joe Wilson, Jr and Jude Sandy (my life partner) with music direction by Michael Evora. Upon the announcement of the season, I immediately threw my hat in the ring to be considered for the role of choreographer. It took a while to come to me, but it finally did.
Why did I want to work on this project? I wanted to be apart of the forward progress of providing artists of color an opportunity to embody characters and movement for which they are historically and ancestrally connected. Though the artists have varying life experience, the “language” of the work speaks to and honors the interconnectedness that is the African diaspora — that web of African diaspority which enmeshes us all. Even those who may not identify as an African diasporan; “black Odyssey,” through elements such as Motown pop references, national monuments and the institution of American slavery itself, we all find ourselves engaged with the topics of belonging so resonant in the work.
Nevertheless, this work is about blackness. It is about finding our way home to ourselves as African diasporans and people of color who have learned to function in societies that marginalize and criminalize our existences. Not this work, “bO” says, this is your place, this space is for you. The work that the nine cast members accomplished reminded me of the wonder of the Africanist aesthetic and the relevance of this work in our current socio-cultural climate. Further, “bO” offers AOC work — work that centers their existence and voices. I had to be a part of this moment!
This show ran for one month to audiences who reportedly raved about its presence in Providence and encouraged Trinity’s continued commitment to such work. “Black Odyssey” gives us, all of us, something to herald for its brilliance as a work of art, for its strident affirmation of selfhood, and for the work it offers artists of color.
Black Odyssey is a promise that there is work for these artists of color as long as the work exists. So, all you young artists of color who PAISOC aims to support, stay committed and stay strong. You have a place, you are welcomed; find your way home.