Four years ago, choreographer and dancer Kenna-Camara Cottman noticed that there was always only one Black act at the Walker Art Center’s annual Momentum: New Dance Works series.
“[Momentum] is this great thing: –everything’'s sold out. But you get there, and there’'s one Black dance. And I know that there’s 15 people in town who could do this. No matter how many people audition, it’s one Black act. And that’s cool, and that’s the Walker and everything. But so I was like, ‘OK, I’'m going to put on my own show and see who I want to see.’”
Thus, Black Choreographers Evening (BCE) was born. Over the past three years, Cottman has poured blood, tears and gallons of sweat into the event, which has become a staple in the Twin Cities in as much time. BCE is so popular, in fact, that you may want to mark your calendar now, as latecomers had to be turned away in years past, due to lack of seating. The dates are Thursday, October 13 and Friday, October 14 at 7 pm (sharp!), at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis.
“The show is about an hour and 20 minutes long, and we have 12 choreographers slated to present their work,” says Cottman. “We have West African, dance theater, contemporary hip hip, conceptual hip hip/spoken word, re-enactments, we have gospel, we have jazz and funk to everyone’s favorite song ‘Poison,’ by Bell Biv DeVoe.”
In short, Cottman says, there is something for everyone.
“One of my goals is to have a good, tight show, to get people in and out. No matter what the piece is, if you hate it, it’s not going to be that long. If you love it – too bad, come back next time. It’s all about the accessibility. It’'s about getting more people to connect with dance, getting more Black people to realize that this is an art form that we really have a lot of control over. I really think that it’s an art form that we dominate. Don’t think that it’s only for brianiacs or people with degrees -- no, it’s for everyone.”
One of the best parts of BCE for Cottman is the community responses she receives. “I’'ve always had people come up to me the past two years and tell me, ‘The only thing I’ve been to is my kids’ recital and it was two or three hours long and so boring and ridiculous, so I’'m so glad you did this,’ or ‘I’ve never been to anything dance before,’ or ‘I’ve never seen anything like this...’ And they really enjoyed it. So that’'s really what I’m going for.”
Cottman’s vision for the event is “...an evening of dance that celebrated either the Black experience – as in, I’'m a Black person creating dance that speaks to what I’ve been through -- or I’m someone who’s working in a field that I consider to be Black dance and exploring the possibilities within that genre.”
As Cottman began to receive responses to her call for artists, she saw that the possibilities for Black dance – especially in the Twin Cities – were vast. She says, “At first glance in the Twin Cities, you wouldn’t even know that there’s this much Black dance going on. So to be in a position where you have to weed the choreographers down to 12 just means that that’s not true at all, that there’s really a lot happening.
“And the show’s not just for Black people, it’'s about the genres – hip hop, reggae, etcetera. But the recognition is there that this is a Black dance genre that I would like to show what I can do in this area. I wanted people to think of BCE as, ‘This is the show that you really want to get a piece into.’ It almost got there this year, where we had so many artists interested.”
In the future, Cottman plans to continue BCE, although she wouldn’t mind passing off the curatorial baton to someone else. “I do everything,” she says. “I do curating, marketing, I’'m in three shows, I’m rehearsal director. I totally bit the idea from the Walker. They have a different choreographer every year, so then the show takes on a completely different flavor each time. I would love to give the show to a Mary Moore Easter or a Uri Sands and just say, ‘You go, you run with it, it’'s your show.’”