Notifications

New Victory Blog

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.

Step Afrika! began as a collaboration between American dancers and members of Johannesburg's Soweto Dance Theater in 1994. They have since emerged as one of the top stepping companies in the United States. Their most prolific work, The Migration Series: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, is now on stage at the New Vic! In this, they bring to life The Migration Series, a landmark painting series by Jacob Lawrence inspired by the journey of the millions of African Americans who moved from the rural South to the urban North to rebuild their lives after World War I. We sat down with founder C. Brian Williams to discuss the cultural context surrounding the show.

1. How do you think The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence reflects today's landscape? 
 
The Migration is an extremely important work for Step Afrika! Every time the cast walks onto the stage, I think of those brave men and women who left the South with its unbearable restrictions on African American life and took a journey without truly understanding what awaited them on the other side. No one ever wants to abandon their home, unless there's no other reasonable alternative. Every performance of The Migration is a percussive tribute to the strength and resilience of these migrants. Their movement truly transformed our country.
 
Seeing the devastating, forced migration of families in Syria, Myanmar and the Central African Republic, alongside our own country's heated dialogue about immigration, I'm reminded that the issues Jacob Lawrence painted about in 1940 remain relevant today. My hope is that those of us not currently in motion demonstrate even more compassion for those who are. 

The Migration
 
2. What do you want audience members to walk away thinking? 
 
First and foremost, I want the audience to have an incredible time at the theater. For Step Afrika! and our incredible team of artists, the theater is a special place where the audience and artist create a very special moment in time together. We all need to make more room for live performance, especially in challenging times, because there's nothing quite like it.
 
The Migration also gives the audience a chance to reflect on their own individual migration stories. The  journeys taken by all of our ancestors make us who we are. Although we focus on the Great Migration, you can compare Lawrence's paintings and our show to photographs taken at Ellis Island in the early 1900s, videos of migrants heading towards the border in the Southwestern United States, and the images of the tens of thousands of Syrian families escaping the challenges back home in the hope of peace and a better life elsewhere.
 
We want to remind the audience that within each and every one of us lies a migration story. When we see the challenges faced by the migrants of today, we should never forget that many of our ancestors once walked in those shoes.
 
C. Brian Williams3. Tell us about stepping and why do you think it's now, finally coming into mainstream culture.
 
Stepping is such an unique art form and dance tradition and we've enjoyed sharing it with audiences around the globe for over 23 years. With its origins in the early 1900s, stepping was created by African American men and women on college campuses who became members of fraternities and sororities. These Greek-letter organizations, like Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., of which I am a member, or Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the first African-American sorority created in the United States, led to the development of stepping on college campuses. It took over 85 years before mainstream America took notice. 
 
In 1988, famed director Spike Lee released his film, Skool Daze, which brought an incredible amount of attention to both African American college life and the tradition of stepping. Just a few years later, in 1994, Step Afrika! began and we have been spreading the word non-stop ever since.
 
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 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
 |<  <  1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10  >  >|