OSU teachers reflect on differences and commonalities through dance

Crystal Michelle Perkins and Susan Van Pelt Petry have a lot on their minds, and they want to say it by using their bodies.

In a new performance, the women, both professors in the Ohio State University Department of Dance, aim to confront issues of race, gender and age using movement.

The teachers have choreographed and will perform the two-person show “Land, Sugar, Bone & Other Illustrations”, which will take place September 30 to October 2 at Studio One at the Riffe Center.

The program doesn’t shy away from the exterior and interior differences between the two: Perkins, 42, is black and Petry, 63, is white.

“There’s something about seeing a black woman, who’s younger, and an older white woman together, just standing in space,” said Perkins, from Augusta, Ga., Who lives in Dayton and is an assistant professor at Ohio State. University.

“It’s already a conversation, and when an audience watches this, they’re having a conversation with themselves,” Perkins said.

Petry, a longtime member of the Ohio State School of Dance and currently the interim chair of the department, agrees.

“We amplify and amplify the fact of our origins and our differences,” said Petry. “We don’t cover it up. … We really make the point that we are not the same.

Choreographer-dancers want the audience to examine their own prejudices by watching the dancers.

“Do you prefer to watch one more than the other? said Pétry. “Do you empathize with one more than the other?” Probably. And maybe it makes us face our biases in a deeply visceral way, in a deeply personal way, instead of just talking about it. “

The lack of language to express ideas about race and prejudice is part of what prompted colleagues to take to a dance.

Several years ago, Perkins and Petry attended a workshop on implicit bias at the university. Both remained disappointed.

“This particular training was OK, but I think Susan and I both thought there was something to be desired,” Perkins said. “Susan approached me, right at this meeting, and she said, ‘I’d like to work together around this.’ … I said: ‘Of course, certainly!’ “

The process began with frank conversations.

“We started with stories of how we carried our race, what I felt as a white woman, what she felt as a black woman,” said Petry.

Work began on the project in 2018, but, due to their workload as academics as well as the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, the project has been delayed.

“Deep inside COVID, we just met on Zoom and we were watching the videos we had rehearsals and talking about it,” Petry said. “Once we were vaccinated, we were able to do it thoroughly. “

“Land, Sugar, Bone & Other Illustrations”, which lasts approximately 35 minutes, consists of three dances: a solo by Perkins, a solo by Petry and a duet to conclude the performance. Music recorded by composer Mark Lomax II will be interwoven throughout the performance.

Prior to show time, a draw will determine whether Perkins’ play, “In Lieu of Flowers,” or Petry’s play, “History Unfinished,” will be performed first.

The two solos will feature the choreographers-dancers meditating on their roots.

“I work a lot from the perspective of being a black woman who grew up in the southern United States,” said Perkins, whose article deals in part with the loss.

“What I hope to make a point is, in our loss, both natural and unnatural, our responsibility to protect one another and to remember,” she said.

In “History Unfinished,” Petry struggles with his own northern European heritage.

“(I say), ‘That’s where I’m from,” “she said. “That’s all the privilege I have in my past and my blood, and now what?” (I ask) the question of how can I change centers now as we go along? “

In the end, the dancers share the stage in an attempt to find answers.

“It’s not a super confrontational and angry piece – we’re not made that way,” Petry said. “In the end, there’s more room for Crystal, and I’m backing up a bit.”

The stage design – which evokes the Old World and the Age of Discovery, said Petry – refers to the history of the Atlantic slave trade.

“We have a map of the world and its trade routes on… an old-fashioned chart table,” Petry said. “We have a whole motif on royalty as a sort of metaphor for power and the European against the African. We literally have crowns and robes and thrones.

While their dances tackle hot – and thorny – topics, collaborators have also been reminded of the things they share.

“As humans, we are both great partners in our marriages; we’re both wonderful mothers, ”said Perkins. “We are professors at the university; we believe in knowledge sharing.

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In one look

Choreographer-dancers Crystal Michelle Perkins and Susan Van Pelt Petry will perform “Land, Sugar, Bone & Other Illustrations” at 8 p.m. on September 30 and October 1 and 15 and 8 p.m. on October 2 at Studio One at the Riffe Center, 77 S High St. Tickets are $ 20.75, or $ 10.75 for students and seniors. Masks are mandatory. For more information, visit www.capa.com.

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