An Artistic Call to African Culture

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Barbea Williams Performing Company
Barbea M. Williams, BWPC founder, 2015 TMY Fellow

"Bubba" Fass and Barbea Williams

Master Folklorist Guillermo “Bubba” Fass and Choreographer/Dance Instructor Barbea Williams circa 2002. In Baile Brazil/Cuba Ache

Barbea Williams’s artistic vision creates movement and cultural conversation about African-centered dance, drums and performance — all the while spurring a deeper dialog about education and artistic practice.

“The content of our work is a catalyst for conversations with artists and audiences, and about relating this relationship to a larger cultural environment,” she says.

A prolific dance artist and UA professor, Barbea herself brings impressive authority to pieces deeply informed by her commitment to what is known as the “Dunham Technique.” Katherine Dunham was a dance pioneer, author, film star and scholar who laid the foundation for entertainment based on “Cultural Anthropology.” The Dunham technique of isolated movements blending dancer and musician communication in an art influenced by culture was groundbreaking and changed contemporary dance.

Curating the TMY Performance

Through the TMY fellowship, Barbea will reunite her company (founded in 1975) with several early collaborators and teachers of both the Dunham technique and Afro-Cuban traditions of the Lucumi (Yoruba) and the Abakua (Bantu) drums.

Led by Barbea and visiting artist-masters Drum Instructor/Choreographer Ed Brown and Folklorist/Percussionist Guillermo “Bubba” Fass, the TMY program will embark on a contemporary weave of cultural dance and drum tradition, developing complex layering with narrative choreography and costuming that will evoke history as well as contemporary dance and music.

Performance Details

A drum call with Congolese origins will begin the program, with incantation to ancestors to bless the space and bring clarity. A performance ethnography will then move from an interactive drum session focused in African historical fact, to a narrative choreography based on the Dunham technique and African presence in Mexico, to a blend of story dance including rhumba, afro-blues, Cuban orisha and nanigo. The program will conclude with a spoken word and contemporary dance encore with drums and audience participation.

Barbea Williams, "Bubba" Fass, and Beyah Rasool

Barbea Williams, Guillermo “Bubba” Fass and Beyah Rasool (Barbea’s son and one of Bubba’s students).

“Our work sits in a space somewhere between documentation, tradition and contemporary interpretation, full of references whether from history or modern pop,” Barbea explains. “We mix and match the sources, inserting historical with familiar, taking the expected and making it unexpected cultural entertainment, art and scholarship. That is the challenge driving much of my work.”

Musical Roots

Barbea grew up in a Chicago musical family — influenced by her mother’s piano in the home and her aunt’s involvement in acting, blues and opera. With music always around her, Barbea’s future was decided from an early age, and she fell in love with movement and sound. With family songfests always underway, Barbea was nurtured by the music of her culture, and her passion for dance grew with her introduction to the Dunham technique.

Barbea’s research, teaching and ongoing involvement in cultural dance have taken her all over — from Africa to Mexico. “We are like anthropologists, never stopping the studies started by generations before us. It’s our role to continue what they started. And dance is that communication that sparks the conversation…” she says.

TMY Artistic Performance Fellowship

BWPC Dancer Patricia Panaligan

BWPC Dancer Patricia Panaligan in “Nuevo Brazil,” the finale for TMY 2015

Barbea and her performance company have been part of TMY for decades, blending artistic performance with historical knowledge through its chants and musical exchanges that engage audience in reflection on ethnic movement and lore. Barbea acknowledges how Jim Griffith’s encouragement and the TMY platform inspired her to start her company and continue her pursuit of dance with cultural advocacy.

“TMY and Dr. Griffith gave me and my dancers an opportunity to insist among ourselves that what we’re doing — taking traditional dance from original environment to concert stage — was authentic and important to community,” Barbea exclaims.

It’s the mission of an artist is to discover truth and to utter it in his or her special medium, she continues. Through performance, Barbea’s artistic vision is ever more alive, keeping pace with the cultural meaning and binding the mission of her performance company to the individual artists, and to others.

Don’t miss the Barbea Williams Performance Company performance at Tucson Meet Yourself: Saturday, October 10, 6-8 PM, Global Rhythms Stage. Full program may be downloaded here, and is available on the TMY website under the HOW TO FESTIVAL section.


Additional information about upcoming workshops:

Saturday, Oct 3, 3-4:30pm Dunham Technique Class
Sunday, Oct 4 and 11
2:30-4pm, Dunham Drum Class
4-5pm African Brazilian Folkloric Samba Dance Class taught by Barbea Williams
Monday, Oct 5
7-8:30pm Dunham Technique

  • GUEST ARTIST — Master Dance and Drum Instructor/Choreographer ED BROWN an accredited teacher of the Dunham Technique.
  • Guillermo “Bubba” Fass – has studied and maintained the Afro-Cuban traditions of the Lucumi (Yoruba), and the Abakua (Bantu) for over 34 years.
  • Barbea Williams – Artistic Director of Arizona’s premier African Centered Dance and Drum Ensemble presenting a unique blend of African Brazilian Folkloric Samba Dance

$7.00 — per workshop, $10.00 — for Both. Call: 520-628-7785-BWPC for more details.
Bring your own drum or call to reserve one.
All Dance and Drum Classes held at Dunbar Pavilion, 325-1 W. 2nd Street

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