Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Black Femininity Honored in Dara Meredith's Dance Premiere, "The Bridge of Our Roots"

Dara J. Meredith is a noted Choreographer, Director, and Educator. She is a Dance Instructor at Eleone Dance Unlimited in Philadaelphia and a longtime member of the Dance Faculty at Christina Cultural Arts Center in Wilmington, Delaware. 

We were honored to catch up with choreographer Dara Meredith and talk about the inception of her newest contemporary dance piece, the inspiration behind it, and what it symbolizes for her and many other Black women. 

The Bridge of Our Roots. Photo by Shannon Woodloe.
Commissioned by the Delaware Art Museum with support from Art Bridges, the soul-searching full-length dance work, The Bridge of Our Roots" is inspired by Southern Souvenir No. II (1948) — a riveting painting by Eldzier Cortor, depicting disembodied figures of Black women. The performance of "The Bridge of Our Roots" premieres at Delaware Theatre Company Friday, September 17, at 8:00pm with a post-performance discussion with the artists. Tickets are available HERE

What does "the Bridge of Our Roots" mean to you, and why did you choose it as the title of this work? 
Eldzier Cortor stated, "...the Black woman represents the black race and the continuum of life". It is my belief that Black women represent the bridge between Black culture and the European culture, and therefore serve as the foundation for continuity in American culture. Since slavery, the Black woman has been the nurturer, giver, and provider for her master and his family as well as her own family; it was evident through the recipes that fed their bellies, her breast milk that nourished their bodies, or the actual giving of her own body to create her own children and the bastard children that were created through the abuse of her master or anyone else who saw fit to have her.
Why did you feel compelled to create this piece?
This work encompasses the stories of so many little girls, and women who feel alone, misunderstood, or silenced by societal norms and the lack of empathy and understanding of what Black women have endured and continue to endure. When we get a chance to share a piece of our story, it is important to tell it in the most authentic and genuine way, to represent every ancestral and living woman whose screams and cries fall on deaf ears. I felt a need to represent what is not represented — me, us!

What was the most challenging thing about creating this performance? What did you love most about it?
The most challenging part was narrowing down what themes and stories I wanted to tell and making sure I did it in a way that not only told my story and emotional attachment to the work, but to represent all facets of black women in its multiplicities and abundance. It was unbelievable pressure to get it right, as well as live up to the magnitude and importance of the actual painting, Southern Souvenir No.  II.

What I loved most about creating this work is the journey of re-learning and shedding my own layers in a therapeutic process with beautiful Black women who were willing to do the same. The amount of support that we have received from each other made the process rich and layered with a sense of genuine humanity, and an offering for us each to recognize our own resiliency — because of and in spite of  our journey as Black women.
Is there imagery of [the painting] Southern Souvenir No. II incorporated into this piece? Where can audiences learn more about this critical work?
I incorporated the imagery of the dismantled parts of the Black female body on the painting. The nipples of the breast that Eldzier Cortor created in a more 3-D fashion emphasizes the way in which her breast was how she nourished the babies to create continuity. This repetitive movement that was created based on this imagery finds its way in every section of the work, creating its own continuity in the work. The painting itself is on display at the Delaware Art Museum and can be viewed until October 2021.

What do you feel are the hallmarks of Black femininity? How are they depicted in this performance?
One hallmark of Black femininity that is depicted in my work is the passion that Black women have to always prevail and overcome, despite any circumstance. We will make sure everything and everyone is taken care of, despite the hardships or adversity we may encounter. She is resilient, and if asked to be anyone else in the world, she stands proudly in her skin and would have it no other way in spite of her tumultuous ancestral past and the plight ahead.

How did you choose the music for this piece? How does it complement/play against the dancers' movements?
I chose music that evoked the emotion of what I wanted to say in each section. Some of the music led my decision to talk about a certain theme, such as "Everything Must Change", sung by Nina Simone. In other sections, I wanted to enrich what I already created. The music drives the point home and complements the movement.

I see that you included elements of singer Nina Simone and poet Ursula Rucker into this performance; who else is represented?
I included music by the Gulluah Choir — Songs of Hope and Freedom  which was the group of people (Gullah and Geechee People) Cortor researched and studied when creating this painting. The work also features a local poet from Philadelphia, Kai Davis, as well as the words of Iyanla Vanzant, Michelle Obama, and Stacey Abrams, with a gut-wrenching score from singer Moses Sumney.

There is so much about the Black experience  and specifically experiences of Black women— that are not often understood, realized, and/or acknowledged. How do you feel this piece speaks to those issues?
I think the work gives an inner look into not only the pain that is present, or why we feel ostracized, but also it represents the resiliency of the Black woman in spite of all she endures. This work explores themes of Sistahs Catching Sistahs, the 'angry Black woman' stereotype, the exploitation and commodification of Black bodies, childless mothers at the hands of police brutality, overwhelmed immunity, how to find healing, and the resiliency that comes from these struggles.

You note that this work speaks to experiences of Black women in the South; do you feel Black women in other areas of our country have similar, related, or different experiences?  
I think women in other parts of the country have a related experience through their histories, but experience it in the present slightly different. In the South, there is a sense of wanting to keep things as they were, so the blatant racism that exist is used in an effort to keep you in your place, whereas being in the North or West sometimes camouflages these same feelings in a way that seems more passive-aggressive, digestible, or sneaky. In other countries these are some of the same experiences and issues they face — being ostracized, abused, and separated at the hands of a patriarchal system and the male gaze.

What message(s) or feeling(s) do you want audiences to take away from this performance?
Every take away is different. I would want people of other cultures to walk away with a level of empathy and care that they move forward with while examining how they situate themselves in creating the change in the world that is necessary on the most micro level. 

I want Black men to walk away with an appreciation and understanding of how to foster more care for their mothers and grandmothers; just because they do everything does not mean it is healthy for them or that they should be taking care of everyone. I want them to examine their role in the family and how they take care of the Black woman in a way that creates balance and encouragement.  

For the Black girl and woman, I want her to walk away knowing that she is not alone in all that she embodies and experiences on every level. She is worthy and beautiful just the way she is, and others are here to support her journey in navigating life.

Was it challenging for you to create (or not create) during the pandemic? How did you handle that?
It was actually good for me to create during the pandemic, because I had time to sit and think about how I wanted to approach this work. It was almost as if the world stood still for a moment, and there was this perfect time and space to focus on something so timely and necessary given the climate in America at the time.

What are you working on next and where can audiences experience it?
I am working on the expansion of this project on a tour as well as the dialogue between this work and my other full-length show, "Beneath the Surface," which is about mental illness.   

What advice would you give to young and/or emerging artists of color? 
I would say, as artists of color, we have to speak our truths in its most authentic, raw, and genuine fashion, because if we don't tell our stories, we invite others to tell it for us. Historically we have to hold on to our cultural tradition of story telling and artist are the ones who get to uphold this tradition.  The revolution starts with us and we can't be afraid of our power and the power of our voice, as it liberates others to do the same!

Friday, August 27, 2021

Artist Sug Daniels Celebrates New Music, EP Release

Sug Daniels, aka Danielle Johnson, is a solo singer-songwriter as well as frontwoman of the funky blues/soul band Hoochi Coochi, and a proud Wilmingtonian. The new EP, Franklin Street, will be out via Weird Sister Records on September 3.

Artist Sug Daniels. Photo by Nathalie Antonov.
I was thrilled to chat with Sug about music, community, and creativity during a pandemic...

Congrats on the new EP! First, what made you want to do a solo project outside of Hoochi Coochi?
Thank you! It was actually just a quarantine project. I wasn't able to get together with my band and write music like we usually did, so I had to fend for myself. Although I lost the ability to play live, I didn't lose the desire and need to create music.

What are the differences — artistically and individualistically — between Danielle Johnson as frontwoman of Hoochi Coochi and Sug Daniels as a solo artist?
To be honest, not too much except one is holding a ukulele and the other is gripping a microphone and jumping on bars. I like the challenge of having to deliver music and entertainment in a more stationary position. This project is less performance-based and more music and lyrics centered. I can (and have) performed the music solo, in a duo, and with a full band. It's always moving and shifting. Better believe when I can figure out how to get myself and ukulele up on a bar...I'll be doing that too, though!

How do you feel you have evolved as an artist since Hoochi Coochi got their start?
I would hope in every way. I really try with each song to be more vulnerable than the last song. I'm constantly trying to figure out how to make the show more electrifying. I worked my tail off to figure out the business side of the music industry as well.

What made you want to create music during the height of the pandemic? Where did you find the most inspiration?
I always want to create music. It's my favorite way to flush through ideas and learn about myself. During the pandemic, I wrote a bunch of songs mostly focused on my friendships, relationships, and how I view the place I live. The songs were all very introspective and personal because I had nothing to do but sit, think, and mull them over in my mind.

I love your collaborations with "Tiltlandia Mayor" Rob Pfeiffer! How did you two get together and start creating?
Yea, Rob Pfeiffer is a dream! I went through a transition during quarantine, and Rob was there to lend a hand. I started living on his third floor, and we became fast musical buddies. Along with making music together, we work in a community garden putting on events that bring neighbors together in the city. I used to see Rob at breweries and shows all the time, but I never thought that our amazing intergenerational friendship would be the catalyst to an amazing solo career. He is a true angel and one of my biggest supporters. I couldn't ask for a better chosen family. We often will be eating dinner and one of us will say to the other, "Wow, we are so blessed."

You call Sug Daniels "the curious creative." What does that mean to you and what does it mean to your fans?
I am and will never be done learning. Next to expressing myself, figuring out how to do things is what drives me.

Do you see yourself as more of an Americana/Singer-Songwriter artist than an R&B artist, or will you continue celebrating and creating in both?
I see myself as both and more, too. I listen to so many types of music so when I create, I subconsciously pull from so many places. I've never been into the idea of limiting myself.

You got a really great review for your "Time & Space" track from Country Queer.
Do you feel a responsibility/need to be a mentor or voice for LGBTQIA+ artists coming up/creating in this time?
I absolutely feel and accept the responsibility to be a leader in my community. I really believe it's an artist's duty to be true and authentic in their stories and expression. We are mirrors to people, and we can provide them the language and examples on what it simply means to be alive from a certain perspective. We bring people together and give them a voice. I do not take that lightly.

What is your favorite track on the EP and why?
My favorite track on the new Franklin Street ep is "Space & Time." I recorded all the instruments on the ep, and this was my first time playing guitar. It's very fun and spacey, and I know some chords but I had never played ambient stuff like that. It was fun and frustrating, but I love the way it turned out.

Of course, I'm assuming Franklin Street is an homage to where you live here in Wilmington, Delaware. There seems to be a great group of artists and creatives in that area. What makes the neighborhood so special?
Yes, this neighborhood is what dreams are made of! Not only are there so many creative people but just plain ol' respectful and caring people. The neighborhood is also very diverse, which I love. I think places that are this free and mixed just draw creative types.

What do you envision as your next "level" artistically...what's ahead for you?
Honestly, I'm not sure. I just hope to continue to learn and grow. Maybe learn some more instruments so I can sit in with other people. Maybe a move to a big city to get more "in the mix" and make more connections. Who knows? I don't.

NOW, some 'lighter' questions...
What song(s) is in your earliest memories, and what does that music bring back for you?
My younger brother's father used to play Jimi Hendrix when he would take us to school in the morning. At that age, I'd only ever heard gospel music, so it was such a sweet treat to hear this amazing guitar guy with his cool voice singing poetry. It started a fire in me to continue to look for weird, strange, and creative music that I still feel to this day.

Who is your 'dream' musician to play with?
At this moment, Jacob Collier. He is a creative genius, and he's only in his early 20s. Highly recommend his tiny desk concert.

What's your go-to nosh after a successful performance?
I am addicted to the tofu and veggie drunken noodles at Southeast Kitchen in Wilmington. I want it before the show, after the show, and in this very moment.

What's your favorite live performance memory and why?
One of my favorite memories was at The Queen during the Ladybug Festival several years back. I was living in Dover at the time, but announced during our set on stage that I had plans to move to the city — and the whole place erupted in this big applause. I felt very loved and validated.

What's one song you wish you'd written?
All of them, honestly! I have very bad song envy. Recently tho, "Little Things" by Big Thief. I think the driving guitar and Adrianne Lenker's voice are the most perfect thing, and I can't stop listening to it.

Find more music & info about Sug HERE!

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Sister Act Provides a Joyous Return to the Theater!

By Charles "Ebbie" Alfree, III

Seeing a live show again is such a joyous experience after theaters were closed for the better part of 2020 and this year. And, what better show to see than The Choir School of Delaware’s boisterous production of the Broadway musical, Sister Act!

Although based on the 1992 hit film, the musical changed the setting to Philadelphia during the late 1970s, where Deloris Van Cartier, a struggling disco singer, witnesses a murder committed by her thug boyfriend, Curtis. After reporting the incident to the police, she is sent to live at a convent for her protection. Reluctantly, she puts on the habit and the shenanigans ensue as she brings new energy to the parish’s fledgling choir.

Amioluwa Balogun-Victor shines bright as the wannabe disco diva, Deloris. She lights up the stage with her strong vocals and comedic timing. It was hard for me not to dance while she performed the electrifying opening number, Take Me to Heaven. Nashon Colon is delightful as Deloris’s old school friend, Officer Eddie, who is working on her case. He hits all the right notes and delights with his big number, I Could Be That Guy. Lex Bowers delivers a frighteningly funny performance as Curtis, and Olivia Drumbore is stunning as the stern Mother Superior who unwillingly accepts Deloris into her parish. Olivia’s beautiful voice soars throughout the sanctuary of Grace United Methodist Church.

The late 19th Century church’s beautiful stained-glass windows and exposed organ pipes provides the perfect setting for the production. Director Thomas Emerson is able to make the large space work well for this musical spectacle. Choreographer Amber Rance has the cast gettin’ down --- whether in gold lamé or in habits --- to the dance-infused score by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater. Conductor Arreon Harley-Emerson has assembled an outstanding band to support the stellar cast.

Unfortunately, Sister Act was a one-night-only performance. However, the Choir School has plenty of other programs planned for this year and into 2022. 

For example, the organziation is offering a musical Bootcamp, running August 23-26, 2021.
Interested youth from the Greater Wilmington area in Grades 2-12 can enroll in the FREE 4-day camp, focusing on music education and choral singing. The camp runs Monday-Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm and includes breakfast and lunch. Students can enroll by August 19 online at

Visit or call 302.543.8657 for additional information.