A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Urban Bush Women Celebrate Twentieth Anniversary
By Anika Adilifu
There is great cause for celebration in 2004 for the Urban Bush Women community. Twenty years ago, Artistic Director Jawole Zollar created her interdisciplinary dance-based performance troupe.

Since 1984, Urban Bush Women have provoked groundbreaking dialogue on the complexity of racial, spiritual, and sexual identity. Using storytelling and emotional embodiment in her choreography, Zollar examines humanity and survival within contemporary and traditional Black female her story.

tZollar's company members are trained in song and theater technique as well as in modern and traditional dance forms. Her signature form is grounded in traditional and vernacular African, Afro-Caribbean, and African-American dance. A student of Katherine Dunham and Diane McIntyre, her work honors this influence in pieces such as Batty Moves (1995) and Hair Stories (2000), which reveal Zollar's consciousness of the dynamic relationships between self-image and projected roles for women of color within Western culture.

tIn collaboration with David Abilio, the director of the National Mozambican Song and Dance Company in 2001 the company created Shadow's Child, an enchanting fable illustrating young female survival and sorority. The piece interweaves traditional Mozambican culture with modern Western dance and song form.

tCompany member Maria Bauman, who has danced in Zollar's company since 2002, remarks "The African contingent of Zollar's creativity is woven throughout her work, as opposed to being segmented into individual African pieces versus pieces in Western form." Shadow's Child is an example where the African contingent of the choreography is complemented by an original African choreographer, David Abilio.

tIn Zollar's own words, "this twentieth anniversary is about reflection on the past, an attempt to seek assurance in the present, and a determination to invest in the future." This year's anniversary repertory piece is created for, and dedicated to, the legacy of Pearl Primus, African American activist and pioneer of American modern dance. One of the first American choreographers to perform traditional African dance in the Western theater, Primus legacy is one of perseverance, art innovation, and integrity.

tZollar's choreography for Walking with Pearl is a physicalized atmosphere, elucidating Pearl Primuss personal journals, thoughts, and poetry. Zollar has choreographed her reverent interpretation of Primus life journey over these texts.

tSince their establishment, Urban Bush Women have been on an unending journey towards financial stability. Individual pieces have been commissioned through private funding, but the company has yet to receive government subsidies. Although they regularly apply for grant funding, company member Maria Bauman points out that "each modern dance company in New York City is also applying for the same, small pot of grant money."

tThrough hard work, creativity and a dedication to social change, Zollar has managed to keep her programs alive. The Urban Bush Women initiate community engagement projects and performance pieces across the country. These connect community members with the company through artistic projects that self empower and provoke social change.

tThrough Art workshops and education seminars, the Urban Bush Women Institutes assist communities in political, spiritual, and creative development. Brooklyn will be the home of the Anniversary Institute this summer. This is fitting since Brooklyn has been the home of Urban Bush Women for twenty years. Through community participation Zollar has helped to develop a language and forum for the discussion of history, spirituality, and the deep internal voices of identity.

tZollar herself is a pioneer and a real inspiration to the American modern dance community. There is comfort in surviving twenty years of creating independent modern art for an all female African-American performance ensemble. Finally, no one can tell the Urban Bush Women and Jawole Zollar what women of color are incessantly told in Western society: that they're not going to make it. Happy anniversary, Jawole and company! Thanks for representing our struggles, our joy, and our deepest sense of self.