Urban Bush Women bring fusion of dance, storytelling and African tradition to Quick Center


Urban Bush Women, a troupe weaving dance, music, storytelling and African cultural tradition into unique dance/theatre works, will present "Shadow's Child" on Saturday, March 8 at 8 p.m. at Fairfield University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. An "Art to Heart" question-and-answer session with company will follow the program. The troupe will also present a version of the performance condensed for young people on Sunday, March 9 at 1 and 3 p.m.

Having premiered at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York City in July 2002, "Shadow's Child" will include members of Campanhia Nacional de Canto e Danca of Mozambique.

Founded in 1984 by choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Urban Bush Women is comprised of formally trained dancers with a range of vocal, theatre, puppetry and performance skills. Seeing cultural expression as a catalyst for social change, Jo Zollar highlights her troupe members' various talents in innovative and intelligent dance/theatre pieces.

Based in New York City, Urban Bush Women have taken shows to France, Brazil, Singapore, Austria, Hong Kong, Israel and several other countries. In 1998, they won one of the first Doris Duke Awards for New York from the American Dance Festival. The troupe has also received the Capezio Award for outstanding achievement in dance and Jo Zollar and the company won a New York Dance and Performance Award for collective works from 1984 through 1990.

Many of the company's signature works deal with race, ethnicity and women's self image in both heart-breaking and side-splitting tone. The thoughtful "Hand Singing Song," created under the Doris Duke Awards for New York, offers the message - through music and dance - that there's still a lot of work to be done to wipe out racism, sexism, homelessness and disease. On the other end of the spectrum is "Batty Moves," in which the performers take an irreverent look at female buttocks, known in Jamaican slang as a woman's "batty."

The ever-changing tone of the works often stymies reviewers. One deems them "fierce;" the next, "feminine." The terms "aggressive," "poignant," "sassy" and "graceful" all turn up in reviews of Urban Bush Women performances.

"Urban Bush Women are a category unto themselves. In fact, in the breadth and freedom of their art, they defy categorization," wrote Janice Berman of New York Newsday.

"Shadow's Child," the show they'll bring to the Quick Center, is the engaging tale of a young girl from Mozambique who moves with her parents to a rural Southern town in the United States. Both the black and white children tease her because she dresses, plays and looks different. Homesick and isolated, she longs for a way to fit in.

Because her skin is dark, the girl feels more secure moving about her new homeland at night and she seeks solace in the dark. Through the magic of dance and puppetry, the creatures of the night around her merge with her ancestors in Mozambique, encouraging her to recognize her personal strengths. Eventually, her nocturnal wandering leads her to solve a mystery and become a town heroine.

In addition to exploring themes of equality, diversity and personal fortitude, "Shadow's Child" introduces audiences to the dances, customs and foods of Mozambique. While U.S. audiences are often exposed to the traditions of western Africa, many may be unfamiliar with the rich culture of the southeastern countries. Combining artistry and culture - and broadening a few minds along the way - fits perfectly with Urban Bush Women's mission.

"The Urban Bush Women are committed triple-threat performers who dance, sing and act with a sometimes searing sense of truthfulness," wrote Jennifer Dunning of The New York Times.

Tickets for the March 8 show range from $25 to $40. Tickets for the March 9 performances are $12 for adults, $10 for children. Discounts are available for senior citizens and groups. For tickets, call the Quick Center box office at (203) 254-4010 or toll free at 1-877-ARTS-396.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on February 6, 2003

Vol. 35, No. 192