Art saves us from drowning in a sea of frustrating questions about identity, justice, and most pressing, race. These last few months have shown us that people are outraged by this country’s responses to racism, segregation, discrimination, and hate for Black people. There are generational trauma and anguish that weigh heavily on many of us, and the journey to unpack the layers of those feelings is daunting. In an effort to make room to express the frustrations that came with being the token Black man in Broadway productions and concert dance companies, Jeremy McQueen created his own ballet collaborative, The Black Iris Project. His passion for storytelling through dance is evident when you understand that The Storm is inspired by the Middle Passage and the hurricanes Sandy, Maria, Harvey, and Katrina–all events that decimated Black lives and left this world struggling to decide how justly Black communities should be treated.
The Storm reaches through time to the Middle Passage, the beginning of the mass transportation and devastation of Africans to the New World. In the opening of the ballet, the dancers labor across the stage towards their fate with a mix of emotions and after the sheet of water descends on them, a single man and his oar take center stage. With his ancestors as his spiritual guide, he watches scenes from the hurricanes of present-day and the inception of slavery, strung together by tension and trepidation. Arguably the most captivating moment of the ballet is the moment the young female dancer falls or jumps as an act of freedom from bondage into the sea, completely shaking the young man as he watches her descent.
McQueen invested time into researching the hurricane and his ballet focuses on how these storms are the catalyst to removing the veil of naivete that’s played out repeatedly in history: delayed support and upliftment for Black and brown communities. The United States’ slow response to help those in Puerto Rico after Maria and the long-lasting displacement Katrina brought primarily to New Orleans is another riptide in the continuous flow of injustice marginalized communities face.
In a wave of anger and frustration during this pandemic, McQueen and The Black Iris Project have turned their talents into a call to action, to “light a match” on the stories of our ancestors and use them as the foundation to move forward into a better present. This ballet serves as a call to action from our ancestors who urge us to remember them and act on their behalf to secure a safer and brighter posterity.
This moving performance is available to watch until 11:59 P.M. PT on Saturday, August 29th and can be found at this link: https://www.blackirisproject.org/news/the%20storm