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The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

In The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, Step Afrika! brings to life Jacob Lawrence's masterwork, a painting series looking back on the Great Migration—the journey of over six million African Americans from the rural Southern United States to the urban North. We sat down with the talented cast and asked them what it feels like to perform this inspiring fusion of stepping, live music and American art in 2017.
 

Today, I'm seeing race being thrust into the forefront of American dialogue more than ever before in my lifetime. We're witnessing firsthand—or through the media—incidents of violence, activism and political discourse that confront our beliefs about racial inequality and social justice. The Migration adds historical context to the conversation, while celebrating the fortitude and courage of our predecessors. I think of it as a model for contemporary society on how to overcome challenging circumstances. — Jakari Sherman, Director

It's an honor to be a part of telling a very important story in our history—a story of culture, oppression, faith, resilience and forward movement. — Brittny Smith

The Migration

It's extremely rewarding and exciting to perform The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence. We're telling a part of American history, and to share this story across generations, races and cultures is a unique opportunity. We may be introducing the art form of stepping to a new audience, and also Jacob Lawrence's iconic work! The blend of visual and performing arts brought together through this work is brilliant. — Mfon Akpan

Performing The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence is both a cathartic and reflective experience. Usually, I perform as myself, but The Migration challenges me to become someone else, like an enslaved person laboring in the field in "Go West," or a young man who's left his family behind to find work in "Off the Train." Conveying the journey of these characters, while seeing the rest of the talented cast telling this story can be very emotional. It makes me reflect even more on how beautiful and resilient the African American community is. I love that. — Jordan Spry

When I perform The Migration, I'm reliving my ancestors' journey to America, while giving a bold and compelling history lesson to the audience. It's surreal at times. — Joe Murchison

The Migration

It's truly a one of a kind experience to perform The Migration in 2017. To be able to tell such a powerful story, considering some of the racial current events going on in America today, is indescribable. — Taquez Whitted

Being a part of The Migration feels like a movement, literally and spiritually. There are many untold stories and uncelebrated heroes from black history and I'm honored to celebrate our past. Performing in this production is truly an incredible way to pay homage to those who came before us. — Kara Jenelle

The current climate of the United States calls for an uplifting, educational and unifying theater experience. That's exactly what you get from The Migration. This story changed our country, and so many people can relate to it. — Christopher Roderick Brient

The Migration

Performing in The Migration in 2017 is an extremely humbling experience, because it allows me to reflect on the past and pay homage to my ancestors, who endured tremendous obstacles. I am thankful for them paving the way for me. — Anesia Sandifer

Being a part of this show inspires an overwhelming feeling of happiness. Studying Jacob Lawrence's work in college and now being able to use my gift of dance to bring his work to life is amazing. — Ronique Murray

One of my favorite things about The Migration is that, not only does it entertain, it enriches the audience with historical facts about the life, art and culture of African Americans. You think you're just coming to see a cool dance show on a Saturday night, but really, you're going to be walking out of the theater equipped with the knowledge to keep an important legacy alive. 2017 is such a fast-paced, politically charged year and it's extremely important that through it all, we continue to engage with our history and remember the resilience and faith our ancestors held in similarly turbulent times. — Charise Pinkston


 
The Migration In The Migration, "two art forms meld, and then painted images seem to come to life," according to The Washington Post. Tickets are available today!


Photos: William Perrigen
Posted by Beth Henderson

In this Family Activity for The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrenceyou will learn about the basic principles of stepping, the Great Migration, its significance in American history and the music from that time! For each show in the season, we'll post a new Family Activity. You can find all of our past posts right here on our blog and at Pinterest.com/NewVictory

Watch, Discuss, Connect

Step Afrika! was inspired to create The Migration: Reflection on Jacob Lawrence by both the Great Migration and Jacob Lawrence. In this activity, get a deeper understanding of that time in history and the painter whose work inspired this show. 
 
The Great Migration
The Great Migration was the movement of six million African Americans from the Southern United States to the North, Midwest and West that occurred between 1916 and 1970.
 
Watch this video on the Great Migration.


Discuss these questions:
  • What is the Harlem Renaissance and how does it connect to the Great Migration?
  • What do you think is the reason behind today's new, reverse migration?
  • What are some connections that you can make between the world after the Civil War and now?
 
Jacob Lawrence
Jacob Lawrence is an artist who tells his personal experience of the Great Migration through his art. Step Afrika! created The Migration, inspired by his artwork in The Migration Series. Click on the image below to find an interview with the painter, himself!

Jacob Lawrence in Conversation

Discuss these questions:
  • It was said that Jacob Lawrence was the griot of Harlem. What is a griot and how does the definition fit Jacob Lawrence?
  • How would you summarize his overall experience during the Great Migration through the choices he made in his art?
  • Do these paintings bring up any feelings for you? If so, discuss.

Explore the Panels
 
Part I: Check out these five panels from Jacob Lawrence's The Migration Series and read their descriptions. 

Panel 49
Panel 49: They found discrimination in the North. It was a different kind.
 
Panel 35
Panel 35: They left the South in great numbers. They arrived in the North in great numbers.
 
Panel 21
Panel 21: Families arrived at the station very early in order not to miss their train North.

Panel 47
Panel 47: As the migrant population grew, good housing became scarce. Workers were forced to live in overcrowded and dilapidated tenement houses.
 
Panel 23
Panel 23: And the Migration Spread.

Some of the Jacob Lawrence panels are purposefully jarring, "Panel 15" is an additional piece that will be seen during the performance of The Migration.

Panel 15
Panel 15: There were lynchings.

Jacob Lawrence strives to visually tell the story of what life was like in the South for African Americans, including the oppression, fear, violence and heartbreak. Some of the images he painted could evoke a range of powerful emotions and responses.
  • How do these painting make you feel?
  • Based on the images, what do you think life was like for African Americans living in the South during that time?
Watch Jacob Lawrence discuss Panel 15 in this video.

Part II: Go online and research photographs from the Great Migration that you feel correspond to Jacob Lawrence's panels. Can you find real life images that tell the story they are trying to portray? To delve further into Lawrence's work, discover more of The Migration Series here.

We paired "Panel 35" with the image below, as an example.

Panel 35
 
Migration Depot

History Told Through Song

Step One: Listen to the following songs:

1920's—"Take My Hand Precious Lord" by Thomas A. Dorsey
 
1930's—"Alabamy Home" by Duke Ellington 
 
1940's—"When It's Sleepy Time Down South" by Billie Holiday

1950's—"Lucille" by Little Richard

1960's—"Respect" by Aretha Franklin 

1970's—"Midnight Train to Georgia" by Empress Gladys & The Pips

Step Two: While listening to the songs, ask each other:
  • What is this song about?
  • What was going on in that decade? Is it connected to the song in any way?
Step Three: Think of songs that tell stories of our current events. Compile your own playlist of songs for 2017 and share it with us on Facebook!

One, Two, Step! 

Step Afrika!, the company behind The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, was founded in South Africa as a collaboration between American dancers and members of Johannesburg's Soweto Dance Theater in 1994. They've since emerged as one of the top African American dance companies in the United States. Stepping is the generic term for dance styles in which the footwork is the most important part of the dance. Watch this video to learn the basics of stepping.
 
 

 
The Migration  

 
A beat for every brushstroke! Experience the invigorating fusion of stepping and live music in The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence.
Posted by Beth Henderson
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