When the Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center kicks off its 12th annual “The Souls of Our Feet People of Color Dance Festival” on Monday, at Long Island University’s Kumble Theater, it’s going to be more like a family reunion than your average dance recital.
According to Alex Smith, executive chairman of the 32-year-old Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center (THPAC), this year’s dance festival — which continues through June 24 — is different because instead of focusing on individual dancers, it will feature 10 companies, all of which Thelma Hill has had a hand in establishing, and all of which, save the Washington, DC-based Edgeworks (performing June 17) and Philadelphia-based The Smoke, Lilies & Jade Arts Initiative (performing June 22) hail from the borough.
“Brooklyn just fosters this type of creativity,” Smith told GO Brooklyn. “This year we’re presenting eight new companies, none of which were in existence before 2000, and they are all presenting new work. Along with that, we’re presenting two established companies that Thelma Hill nurtured in their early years.”
Indeed, Ron K. Brown, of the award-winning Fort Greene-based Evidence dance company, is one of Thelma Hill’s great success stories, and will be bringing his troupe to the festival on Tuesday, June 17.
Up-and-coming artists, like Abraham.In.Motion artistic director Kyle Abraham, are hoping that some of Brown’s success rubs off on them as they present their works on the same stage on June 22.
“It seems like Thelma Hill is trying to really explore what’s happening with artists of color,” said Abraham, a Cobble Hill resident who will be presenting “Number 6,” a dance inspired by the Jackson Pollock painting of the same name. “It’s not just all about one aesthetic. All of the artists involved have so many different viewpoints and voices.”
Smith agreed, and is pleased to present new and exciting groups alongside those who are still exciting, but maybe not quite as new.
“[Urban Bush Women and Evidence] were where these companies are now — 15 years ago,” he said of those well-known THPAC alumni, who will perform on June 16 and 17, respectively. “It’s great that they’re willing to perform, and it’s good, because it offers continuity to the organization. We do dance presentation for companies of color, so you see those that are new and those that are more established.”
Not just any new talent makes the cut, however. Smith said that the festival is known for being a launching pad for local dance groups, and that only the best of the best are chosen to represent Thelma Hill on stage.
“This festival will give you an idea of who is going to be major on the scene in the next two to five years,” he said. “These companies are definitely going to be the movers and shakers.” Additional companies slated to perform during THPAC’s series are Ase Dance Theater on June 16; HUNTERDance Theater and Tracy Lang on June 23; and Purelements and Asase Yaa African-American Dance Theater on June 24.
And while dance companies can make it big in any city, Smith believes that it’s right here in Brooklyn where they’ll learn to sink or swim.
“That is one of the strengths of Brooklyn,” he said. “It’s very culturally aware.”
Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center presents “The Souls of Our Feet People of Color Dance Festival” will begin at 7:30 pm on June 16 with a performance by the Urban Bush Women and the Ase Dance Theater at Long Island University’s Kumble Theater (Flatbush Avenue Extension at DeKalb Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn). Tickets are $15, $12 for students and seniors. The series continues through June 24. For information, call (718) 488-1624 or visit www.kumbletheater.org or www.thelmahill.com.