In ‘wimmin@work,” Choreographer Valades takes off her ‘modern dance hat’

While the month of March may go out like a lamb weather-wise, there’s nothing meek about the “wimmin@work” performance showcase on Saturday. The event features offerings by women performing artists who are fiercely committed to their crafts and also celebrates Women’s History Month.

Andrea E. Woods Valdes started this event last year. A former member of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Valdes moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Durham in 2009 to teach dance at Duke University.

The women performing artists she knows fulfill many roles both inside and outside the home. But there’s one role that often is neglected because of being so busy with these other roles. “Their own creative work is at the end of the list,” Valdes said in a telephone interview.

That these women were eager to not only create work but share it onstage became evident when Valdes had received a big response from an email she sent out last year in which she had shared her idea about the performance showcase. “It was almost like a shout-back ‘Yes!’ through the email,” Valdes recalled.

Valdes’ SOULOWORKS, an umbrella for her projects, and the Hayti Heritage Center are co-producing this year’s showcase that features 10 acts that includes Valdes and her group, Calabasa Calabasa, she formed in January.

“I gave myself permission to take off my modern dance hat,” Valdes said of forming a group that draws inspiration from Africa and the African Diaspora. Members dance, sing, use spoken word and poetry as well as play the shekere, a West African ceremonial shaker made from a dried, hollowed-out gourd covered with a beaded net. They sometimes sing in African dialects as well as in English, French and Spanish.

In the Saturday program, they’ll perform “We Stand for Love,” a medley that includes a song that celebrates African-American activists Ida B. Wells and Toni Cade Bambara.

“Wimmin@work” showcase emcee Kimberly Gaubault, who also performs as a spoken word poet on Saturday, expressed her appreciation of Valdes’ vision. “She designed a safe space specifically centered around black women’s voices and this alone makes it a space of resistance and a sacred space …” Gaubault said in an email interview.

“I will be performing a piece written specifically to celebrate myself and a group of black women who were dehumanized in a moment of celebration having shared our stories of surviving sexual assault,” Gaubault said.

Gaubault’s artistic work is also informed by her education. She holds undergraduate degrees in English, African and African American Studies and a Certificate in Women’s Studies at Duke University. She also has a Master of Divinity Degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Also on the line-up Saturday, Beverly Botsford will drum and play other percussive instruments as well as use spoken word and movement in her “Free Drum – A Nation of Many Colors.”

Kamara Thomas will perform several songs from her upcoming album, “Tularosa,” inspired by the mix of real-life characters, including Billy the Kid, who populated the Tularosa regions of New Mexico and were chronicled in the travel book “Tularosa: Last Frontier of the West.” This album is the soundtrack of Thomas’ multi-disciplinary stage work-in-progress.

Dancer, drummer and storyteller Aya Shabu will perform “Before There Was Rosa,” her homage to Pauli Murray, poet, activist, lawyer and priest, who grew up in Durham from age 4, when she moved from Baltimore, Maryland, to live with her aunt after Murray’s mother died. “But, mostly, I’m intrigued by her because, like me, she writes about and uses her own family’s history to understand her world, past and present,” Shabu said in an email interview.

This artist’s work as a storyteller also includes the Whistle Stop tours Shabu leads of historic sites in such neighborhoods as Hayti in Durham.

Shabu first came to Durham in 2003 as a member of Chuck Davis’ African American Dance Ensemble. She’s currently a dancer and drummer with Shabutaso’s The Magic of African Rhythms.

As for what it means to perform in the Saturday event, Shabu said: “It means that I am a working artist and more importantly that creating art is activism.”

“It’s life-affirming for us,” event originator Valdes said. “Reflecting respect and dignity for women has always been the priority of our art and it will continue to be the priority. Nobody woke up after the election [of Donald Trump as President] and said: ‘Now is the time to get to work.’ We continue to affirm dignity and that is the way we confront negativity,” Valdes added.

Editor’s note: After the performance, see review at susanbroiliarts.wordpress.com


WHAT: wimmin@work performance showcase

WHEN: Saturday (March 25), 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Doors open at 2 p.m. when women vendors will be in the lobby.

WHERE: Hayti Heritage Center, 804 Old Fayetteville St., Durham

TICKETS: $8 at the door; free for children under age 12