Philadanco! showcases the plight of the black man

The Philadelphia Dance Company made their way to UMass to put on a show about the struggles of being a black man in America worthy of a two minute standing ovation.


(Tristan Smith / Amherst Wire)

AMHERST- Six African-American dancers draped in red prison jumpsuits lie on the floor motionless. Eerie music echoes throughout the stage while news reports covering the killings of unarmed black men are played in the background. The dancers lift up their bodies, link arms and proudly hold their fists in solidarity. On the back of their jumpsuits, you can read five names that need no introduction: Trayvon, Stephon, Eric, Freddie and Emmet. This is just one of many powerful scenes portrayed by Philadelphia Dance Company, or “Philadanco!,” who brought their talents to the UMass Fine Arts Center last Thursday. They showcased the power of black expression through four thought-provoking ensembles.

(Tristan Smith / Amherst Wire)

“Unarmed black male shot, beat, choked, killed by police,” has appeared in our news feed too many times to count. These Philadelphia-based dancers bring awareness to police brutality and marginalization through a fierce and somber ensemble titled: “Endangered Species.”

Police killings are the leading cause of death amongst young black men. About 1 in 1000 black males are expected to die at the hands of a police officer. Accredited choreographer, Anthony Burrell, used his talents to develop an ensemble that shines a light on this overlooked issue. “Endangered Species,” encapsulates the pain, strife, struggles and anguish that come with being a black man in America. The dancers used their personal experiences with police officers and the tragic stories of the men highlighted on their backs to fuel the piece. Their movements were striking but sorrowful. Every time their bodies would jolt up in triumph, an omnipresent oppressive force seemed to bring them back down to the ground. Hands were held up in the air to signal to officers not to shoot. They put their hands over their mouths to symbolize the struggle that comes with police confrontations. No matter how wrong or demoralizing the officer is, a black man can’t risk speaking out against them for fear of his life.

(Tristan Smith / Amherst Wire)

During a panel hosted by Phildanco! at UMass’ New African House two nights prior to the event, the dancers describe how they use their art to convey their message to the audience. The compromising situations black men find themselves in at the hands of police officers are discomforting and horrifying. The dancers’ goal was to translate this feeling to the stage through symbolism. They succeeded with flying colors, bringing certain audience members to tears and garnering a two-minute standing ovation from the predominantly white UMass crowd. Philadanco! dancer, Victor Lewis Jr., discusses the response from the audience.

“The constant feedback and the lives that we’re touching keeps us going; it keeps us involved. Speaking to the audience and indulging ourselves and our characters into the piece keep us going and the drive and passion that we have.”

The piece isn’t all sorrowful. At the end of the ensemble, the audience saw all six dancers united as one. The unification of black men is one way to oppose the oppressor, hoping that one day they can change the way they are scrutinized and devalued in the country that they call home.


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