St. Louis Company Amara Arts Presents African Diaspora Dance | Art Stories and Interviews | St. Louis | St. Louis News and Events

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Courtesy of Amara Arts

Amara Arts dancer Samantha Madison performs choreography by Danny Reise. Amara Arts will perform at Riverside Time Art A’Fair on June 23.

Amara Arts’ new piece “Speak” examines how “the Afro-Brazilian movement allows us to claim space and speak with our bodies.” The company will present this work, and others, with an upcoming performance at Riverside Time Art A’Fair on June 23.

“I just got out of graduate school, so I’m in this very experimental mode,” said founder Charis Railey. “We’ve also planned a fun interactive segment that plays with the idea of ​​conversation between the audience, the dancer, and the artistic experience created by all of us.”

Like much of the work of the St. Louis dance company, it is informative and interactive and blurs the line between performer and audience. True to the roots of Afro-diasporic dances, the wall between spectator and performer is “permeable”, says Railey. While European traditions of performance art encourage the passive viewer, African artistic traditions allow viewers to connect and contribute to the performance.

Inspired by playing instruments with an African storytelling company as a child, Charis established Amara Arts in 2018 to be a “dance company focused on African Diaspora arts in the Americas”.

The Atlantic slave trade stole over 12 million people from a dizzying array of cultures across the African continent to live and work in unspeakable conditions across the Americas, creating the African American Diaspora. Crossing the ocean to remember and adapt the traditions of the homeland to their new environment helped Africans survive in the New World.

Afro-descendants have emerged from generations of slavery and discrimination in the New World with a vast collection of dances to promote well-being and resilience. From hip hop and salsa to samba and tap dancing, these art forms reflect community and strength despite historical circumstances, Railey says.

Drawing inspiration from Railey’s background in anthropology and the Dunham technique, Amara Arts weaves this story throughout its performances. Created by Katherine Dunham and inspired by her anthropological work, the Dunham technique strongly incorporates elements of African and Afro-Caribbean dance. Dunham’s work broke down barriers by blending performance art with cultural understanding, an approach that Charis emulates.

“I focus a lot on learning the context, culture and origin story of a dance before putting it back into my context,” she says. This approach allows the audience to understand and connect with the dances. Charis fondly recalls being told by some audience members after a performance that “we don’t speak Portuguese and don’t know anything about samba, but we felt the weight of what you were doing”.

“That’s what we want people to take away from our performances,” Charis says. “Even if we can’t verbally explain the context and story of a dance, we want them to feel its weight. For example, if we’re doing samba, people see the bikinis and the feathers and the pretty girls in costumes, but we also want them to see the sense of community that the dance promotes.

Amara Arts tours throughout the St. Louis area and surrounding areas such as Indiana and Illinois, performing at venues ranging from birthday parties to cultural celebrations, inspired by the feedback they receive.

“I love performances where I can tune in and see how it affects people,” Charis says. “Hopefully after the show they find someone to take dance lessons with and continue to listen to music and dance in their living room.”

Discover Amara Arts at Riverside Timeart fair Thursday, June 23. Tickets are $25 online and at the door. Learn more here.

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