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The Alchemy of Bantaba 

Behind the Scenes

Inspired by Katherine Dunham’s quote, “After many efforts to arrive at some conclusive decision when thinking of dance, I have decided upon this, that dance is not a technique but a social act and that dance should return to where it first came from, which is the heart and soul of man, and man’s social living.” -Katherine Dunham


I chose the music of Puerto Rican Latin Jazz artist Tito Puente, who created an Afro-Cuban suite, Night Ritual. Aesthetically, I pulled from my “witnessing and experiencing” of the Afro-Cuban Orisha dances merged with Dunham to show that dance is spiritual to many cultures rooted in the Africanist and Indigenous. The piece begins with a female-assigned dancer solo to establish the matriarchal nature of many pre-colonial societies such as the Filipino’s Babaylan (shaman); I merged the Filipino martial art, Kali (eskrima is the colonized term) as my way to connect with Dunham’s research of Martinique’s warfare featured in the ballet, La`Agya. 


The second section stemmed from a prompt question to the dance artists, “ How do you connect with the work?” A fruitful conversation of honoring ancestry and questioning disconnections led to my choreography of a Bantaba, which in African culture means conversations often occurring by a tree. I learned about this concept from the late Baba Chuck Davis. I was also reminded of this recently after a dance workshop this fall at Muhlenberg with Ansummanne Silla, a dance teacher from Guinea Bissau. He described how his village worked around depression and anxiety ..." we played drums and danced." I will never forget this. His description reminded me of my own childhood growing up in the Philippines. There was ease. There was breath. There was freedom, even is a place with less economic opportunities. 


As a storyteller, I asked the dance artists to tap into their cultural language and stories. I shared Katherine Dunham's concept “Aesthetics is political.” The entirety of the piece is rooted in Indigenous dance rhythms, affirming that dance is NOT a spectacle but a documentation of stories, investigations, emotionalities, and even a critique to speak on social justice.  

Our Story

Anito: So how yall connecting  the piece?


Lili D: (#1) I am Colombian on my Dad’s side and African American, Black Seminole Indian, German and Trinidadan on my Mom’s side, but growing up I was just Colombian as I was living in a largely latine neighborhood. Then coming to Muhlenberg I’m considered black, and have been focusing on black dance. This experience has helped me connect to all parts of my heritage and feel empowered in the mix of culture within myself and the dance. 


Jacob: (2) I'm a quarter Puerto Rican on my dad's side. Inside that though there's a mix of Taino, which is an indigenous group in la Borinquen, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Caribbean, most likely some African, and definitely a whole lotta Spanish. I grew up in NH which is probably the whitest state like ever so I kinda learned to compartmentalize and pretend to be 100% white you know? It wasn't until high school I even talked about being Puerto Rican, and it wasn't until I came here I started really taking pride in who I am and where I come from.

¡Despierta Borinqueño

Que han dado la señal!

¡Despierta de ese sueño

Que es hora de luchar!

A ese llamar patriótico

¿no arde tu corazón?

¡Ven! nos será simpático

El ruido de cañón

Nosotros queremos la libertad

Nuestros machetes nos la dará

Vámonos borinqueños, vámonos ya

Que nos espera ansiosa

Ansiosa la libertad

¡La libertad, la libertad!

¡La libertad!


Hailey: (3)I'm unsure of my historical background and what my lineage is. What I do know is that I am white and I express myself through what I do know and who I am. When you see someone, the first thing you notice is the physical body such as the color of their skin or what gender they are. But these features don’t make us who we are, it’s the way they all connect and intersect that makes us who we are, you know. People have many layers and it’s just important to remember that no one should be judged for only one layer.


Gnama: (4) It’s been empowering, connecting to all parts of my heritage. Learning more about myself, where I come from, and being able to fully claim all parts of my identity. Part of my family is Irish and Italian and the other part is Guinean, specifically Mandinké. I was going to take the Fulani workshop, because that culture is very similar to mine, but there was no more space to sign up. 


Matt:(5) I mean...everything that James Baldwin said in that interview you sent me...that's how I feel



My family is really small and is made smaller by disconnection from my mom’s side of the family, which is white, mid-western, and conservative. Instead of going down that same kind of path, my mom chose to move to Boston and was determined to build a very different family dynamic. Christmas dinners with my dad’s side of the family represent traditions from his Italian family heritage. This all informs the traditions that bind my immediate family together.


Hannah:(7) I enjoy listening to people’s stories and learning what makes everyone who they are. Through this process, I’m learning how various cultures use dance and movement to express their identities and values and how you know,  regardless of who we are, we can learn from others through embodied experiences.

(like if I didn't hear these stories from you all..I wouldn't really know …something to this effect?)


Lily C: (8) I’m just the freshman guys I don’t really know. Hearing all these stories about different heritages, it's kind of hard for me to relate and connect with. I know I have Italian and irish family but their stories have never been heard or talked about. I grew up in an area that didn’t have a lot of diversity. We literally had “usa day” every spirit week during football season but instead of it being about red white and blue, people wore confederate flags around their necks.


Anito: Dance is Spiritual Resistance.

Dance is an archive of memories

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