Simone Sobers on Giving Form to Women of Color Through Dance
For her part, gallery founder Bernice Steinbaum, who will be closing the gallery for good come July, is known for her pioneering efforts that have supported women artists, artists of color, and mid-career artists. The gallery's focus echoes that of Simone Sobers'. Sobers' own eclectic and international background informs the company's mission to present work globally and increase the visibility of minority women. We asked Sobers to expound on the mission and vision of her company.
Cultist: How much of your own experience motivates you to make women visible on a global scale?
Sobers: Throughout my training and travels, I have noticed a lack of representation of women of color in the dance world as performers, choreographers, or in positions of power, such as artistic directors, producers, curators. I have also discovered a trend in women of color being downplayed or excused from these roles because of our physique and or inability to "blend in" with the rest of the cast, corps de ballet, or ensembles. Ironically, this form of artistic racism is exclusive to dance [creators] and not the audience of dance enthusiasts. I have found from my experiences of traveling abroad with my company that people are grateful, moved by, and relieved to see three strong black women on stage moving boldly and gracefully in their bodies.
You have performed in the States and parts of Europe. Would you like to see the company perform in Asia, Africa, or even the Middle East? How do you think certain cultures in those continents, where maybe our Western sense of women's equality are still a challenge, might receive your work?
I would love for the company to share our work in all parts of the world, including Asia, Africa, and the Middle East where there are very strong stereotypes about women of color as well as very different values placed on women's role in society. In these settings I think my work could be viewed as shocking, intriguing, and provocative. My work tends to leave the audience curious about my intention and inspiration.
Pioneering companies like Alvin Ailey, Harlem Ballet Theatre, and Ballet Hispanico created a visibility and gave a voice to people of color in classical and modern dance forms where once they were invisible or non-existent. Now decades later, even with all the evolution in social, political, and artistic arenas, why is it still important to give voice to women's stories and specifically to give visibility to women of color? What are the stories you feel are still being ignored and need to be heard and seen?
Women of color have their own unique set of challenges based on the fact that we are a part of two minority groups that both have a long history of discrimination and oppression. Fast forward into present day, although we have come a long way, most of those issues are still present in how women of color are presented in the media, our status in the workplace, and most importantly in the development of our relationships with each other. Although opportunities have and are being created to be visible on a stage, I think there needs to be opportunities for women of color to share who they really are, how their past has an effect on their present spirit, and what it means to be a woman of color today. We are not just that one idea that is presented in the media, but a combination of many things that together makes up something eccentrically beautiful.
Your company's focus is on sharing "eclectic, transformative, vulnerable, and celebratory stories of women through the art of dance." The word "vulnerable" can imply leaving oneself exposed or susceptible to harm, but its more positive attribute opens one to taking risks and chances leading to deeper feeling, experience, and growth. What does this word mean to you and how does it translate into the stories you tell?
True and raw beauty lies in being vulnerable. Vulnerability allows someone else to have access to every part of you -- virtues, vices, and habits -- the complete composition of who you are. This is where real sharing takes place and what people can grasp and relate to. In my work I aim to tap into this vulnerability in both my dancers and the audience. A story is an honest recollection and I hope in my work my honesty is at the forefront.
Simone Sobers Dance's Miami debut of 'Rogue' will be performed at Bernice Steinbaum Gallery on Friday at 7:00 p.m, 3550 North Miami Ave., Miami; a $10 donation is suggested at admission.
--Miguel Angel Estefan, Jr, artburstmiami.com
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