Thursday, January 20, 2011

25 years of dance with Urban Bush Women

Posted By on Thu, Jan 20, 2011 at 10:14 AM

The Brooklyn-based dance company Urban Bush Women—a troupe of seven female dancers led by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar—has been providing audiences with their unique blend of African and Caribbean dance traditions mixed with a contemporary vocabulary for 25 years. The company has a long-standing relationship with the city of Atlanta. They've made many stops here in their years together, and the city even witnessed an important moment of the company's development: Their seminal, signature work Praise House previewed at Atlanta's National Black Arts Festival in 1990 and then went on to world premiere at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston the same year. We caught up with Zollar in anticipation of the group's performance at GSU's Rialto Theater on Saturday, January 22.

What was your original philosophy behind founding the group Urban Bush Women?

I don't know that I had a lot of philosophy behind founding the group. I think that's something that evolved. Initially, I wanted to create an ensemble that was dance theater that was different sizes of women. Not just for its own sake, but because I like the way different bodies move. I wanted something that felt like the women I grew up with and something that had a rough-hewn texture to it as opposed to ballet which is very, very—what's the word...

Maybe weightless?

Yeah. I guess you could say weightless. I wanted to see weight. I wanted to see struggle. I wanted to see the human condition closer to its natural state.

When you're auditioning for the company, what do you look for in a dancer?

I look for individuals who are able to embody their individuality through a unique approach to movement. You remember them as people as opposed to being a group of dancers who you don't necessarily connect to.

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar
  • Jawole Willa Jo Zollar
Can you talk about some of the dances you saw when you were growing up?

I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. The community I grew up in danced. You danced for joy, you danced for sorrow. You danced. These are vernacular dances and Kansas City has a strong music tradition so it was more how people danced on a social level. When I went to my local dance studio, my teacher's focus was connecting to music and feeling. My first dance experiences were connecting to movement and feeling, community and culture.

A lot of your pieces touch on religious traditions. Do you think of yourself as a religious person?

Not at all. I think of myself as absolutely connected to spirit. Not connected to organized religion.

After 25 years leading your troupe, is there a particular moment you think of as a highlight?

I think every concert is! Really. It's true. I feel like it's every concert. We're performers. Our goal is to be present in the moment and to know that experience is absolutely unique. There will be no other experience like that ever again.

Urban Bush Women will perform at Georgia State's Rialto Center for the Arts on Saturday, January 22, at 8 pm. For more information, visit the Rialto or call the box office at 404-413-9849.

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