Dance Up Close to Stefanie Batten Bland's "Madonna"
The Black Madonna of E-Moves
Harlem Stage’s acclaimed E-Moves dance series will offer its 15th installment, presenting accomplished choreographers while mentoring emerging and evolving dance artists who will also show work at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse.
This year’s evolving artists are David Fernandez and Stefanie Batten Bland. The Dance Enthusiast was lucky enough to sit in on the first official rehearsal of Batten Bland's stirring Madonna. Once a solo, but ever expanding, Madonna, will be featured at E-Moves on April 5th and April 12, 2014.
All E-move performances begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse, 150 Convent Avenue (@ W. 135th St). Tickets are $20, available at www.harlemstage.org or 212-281-9240. An opening night reception will follow performances on Friday, April 4.
In addition to the exciting premieres over two weekends in April, E-Moves, for the first time, will include a “dance battle” each night between local house and break-dance artists. Should be very exciting to see.
Stefanie Batten Bland’s Madonna was inspired by a visit some years ago to the Medieval gallery of an art museum in Brussels. “There was this magnificent gold light coming out of one of the portraits...and as I got closer and closer and closer, I saw it was one of the Virgin Mary, except that she was black.”
Origins of Madonna
There are about 450-500 Black Madonnas in Europe, some are located in museums, some in sacred spaces, and most are venerated. These exceptionally beautiful icons, associated with miracles and mystery, piqued Batten Bland’s interest.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to bring these women to life?” the choreographer asked herself, “to let them step out of their paintings?”
Couldn’t the beautiful inks and rich gold tones belonging to the Black Madonnas inspire a celebration of the different shades, colors, and aspects of women?
"Madonna was first created as a solo for the Festival Danse à Lille in Northern France, and that was the end of it," recalls Batten Bland. "It sort of disappeared after that, (much like the Black Virgin artifacts and tableaus disappear.) We tried to play it here in the States, sometimes it worked out, and other times it just didn’t.”
Once Harlem Stage told her that they were interested in the piece, she knew she could begin to expand it from a solo for herself to the larger vision of her dreams.“Honestly, my dream is that Madonna will be a piece with 10 to 15 people.” She describes a stage with a living set of various Madonnas, some displayed on the wall, some moving around the space, others traveling in and out of view, reminiscent of the figures illegally traded in underground antiquities markets.
This latest "double solo version" of Madonna, featuring the luminescent Latra Wilson, allows Batten Bland to achieve more of the visual design she is going after. We can see her Madonna simultaneously as a radiant force of energy and a sacred portrait.
The choreographer truely enjoys transfering her work to other bodies. In rehearsal, she sings, and verbally encourages Wilson as the dancer fashions her own Madonna out of Batten Bland's steps and ideas. “What’s so much fun is that it has never been about me. What I find most exciting, is seeing what, and how work looks on ‘us’.”
A Minute with a Modern Madonna
FOOTNOTES: The E-Moves participants, dance styles and their paired mentors are:
Choreographer Style Mentor
Stefanie Batten Bland Contemporary Juan Carlos Peñuela
Maria Bauman Contemporary Germaul Barnes
Rashida Bumbray Tap/Hoofing and Blues Francesca Harper
David Fernandez Ballet Reggie Wilson
Rie Fukuzawa Contemporary Kevin Wynn
Desiree Godse Mambo/Contemporary Marya Wethers
Damani Pompey Contemporary Nia Love
Christopher Rudd Contemporary Ballet Edisa Weeks
April 4 & 11:
E-Merging: Rie Fukuzawa, Damani Pompey and Desiree Godsell
E-Volving: David Fernandez
House battle featuring MC Bravo
Q&A to follow performances April 11.
April 5 & 12:
E-Merging: Christopher Rudd, Maria Bauman and Rashida Bumbray
E-Volving: Stefanie Batten Bland
Hip Hop battle featuring MCs Rockafella (April 5) and Robin Dunn (April 12)
Q&A to follow performances April 5.