With Black History Month approaching, a group of youth from the Collective of Black Artists (COBA) are preparing to take part in a very creative history lesson.
COBA, which runs out of the Daniels Spectrum in Regent Park, is dedicated to preserving the cultural traditions of Africa and the African diaspora through research, education and public performance.
A group of COBA dancers will join up with a number of other talented dancers to present Tribute: A Moving History of Canadian Blacks in Dance.
They will take the stage at the Harbourfront Centre to honour nine of the country’s biggest names in dance.
“We’re going to represent more of the youth aspect and paying homage to the dancers who have changed the African diaspora,” said COBA member Jasmine Griffith-Reid.
The youth will pay tribute to Paul Pettiford, Len Gibson and other renowned black dancers and choreographers who had a huge impact on the Canadian dance scene. Their works will span a variety of genres, highlighting the diversity of dance styles influenced by some of the nation’s leading lights.
“We’ll start off with hip hop, going into tap, there will be an Afro-Caribbean piece, ballet, jazz,” said COBA member Roushelle Green. “At first, it seemed like it would be tough to pull off, but once we got into it and saw who we were trying to (honour), it really came together.”
Some of the youth had a chance to meet some of the artists whose work they will honour, either through their involvement with COBA or elsewhere. Whether they met the artists or not, COBA gave them an in-depth education into the artists and their styles.
“(COBA) really digs down deep into the different dancers and where the moves and steps come from in the African community,” Green said.
As part of its mandate, COBA offers youth a chance to study a variety of different dance styles, delving not only into the movements involved, but the history behind them. The organization also offers anatomy classes, giving members a working understanding of the muscles they are using and how to avoid or treat injuries.
COBA’s involvement with Tribute came about naturally due to an existing relationship with dance Immersion.
“They reached out to a number of organizations that support youth dance and because we have a long-standing history with dance Immersion, it was a very easy reach-out for us,” said COBA executive director Nicole Griffith-Reid.
In addition to performing, the COBA dancers will be responsible for moving around large panels on which images and videos will be displayed throughout the show.
“We have to dance while moving them and make sure they’re in exactly the right spot to keep the performance working the way it needs to work,” Jasmine Griffith-Reid said.
While Tribute obviously fits with COBA’s educational mandate, it will also offer the dancers a chance to gain experience and exposure alongside dance legend Danny Grossman, Zab Maboungou’s acclaimed Montreal-based Compagnie Danse Nyata Nyata and the Children and Youth Dance Theatre of Toronto.
“From COBA’s perspective, this is a great enhancement to our program and an excellent project,” Nicole Griffith-Reid said. “It’s a tangible way to learn the history behind black figures in the dance community.”
Tribute will take place at the Harbourfront Centre’s Fleck Dance Theatre with performances at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 1 and Saturday, Feb. 2. For tickets or information, call 416-973-4000 or visit www.harbourfrontcentre.com/nextsteps/danceimmersion