If you’ve ever wondered what inspires a work of dance, just ask André Zachery. This Haitian and African American choreographer is inspired by female literary icons like author N.K. Jemisin and poet Aja Monet.
His new work, Respiration, is in homage to Jemisin's novel The City We Became, which is "a love letter to New York City,” he tells EBONY. In the novel, Jemisin writes how a city is born; Zachery has translated the Afrofuturist text into an imaginative work for an ensemble of dancers.
“The book is about a city becoming alive and how it actually manifests itself through the people that live and die there,” he shares. “We’re bringing to life situations and encounters they are experiencing and those that mirror my own memories of being in New York City. I feel that she's one of the most important writers right now of our time.” Zachery also taps into Monet's 2022 debut single “Give My Regards To Brooklyn” to add color and dimension to the piece.
As artistic director of Renegade Performance Group, Zachery's practice, research and community engagement artistically focuses on merging choreography, technology and Black cultural practices through multimedia work. He studies data and research from African American, Asian and Caribbean cultures to formulate his concepts. “To understand how we are connected across this diaspora, it is essential for me to articulate how each culture is unique, but also connected and multifaceted,” he shares.
Zachery premiered an excerpt of Respiration at Jacob’s Pillow Lab, a non-profit entity that provides performance residencies for choreographers in the Berkshires, Massachusetts. The evening-length multimedia performance blended dance and original music and sound. The lab was the perfect space for Zachery to investigate his creativity. “I’ve been doing that through dance for a little over a decade," he explains. "It's important for me to have an opportunity to use words that inspire me that are really lifted off of the page and bring it to life through dance.”
For their Pillow debut, Zachery and his company leaned into its whole experience. “We rehearsed about five to six hours a day. We'd warm up ourselves to get into the rhythm,” he shares. “This was the first opportunity like this for myself and my company to have an extended period of rehearsal and just go in deep on a work and have that full concentration.”