Dance Up Close to Stefanie Batten Bland's "Madonna"

Dance Up Close to Stefanie Batten Bland's "Madonna"
Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram

By Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram
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Published on April 1, 2014
Stefanie Batten Bland /Photo: Guillaume Le Grontec

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 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.”

Expanding Madonna

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


Program Roster:

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.


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