I had the privilege of visiting Montgomery, Alabama and attending my first Wideman Davis Dance performance on March 31, 2023. Special thanks to Jan Sharpe for grabbing the tickets in advance, knowing I would come. We took the short drive to The Gump and made our way to the historic Elks Lodge.
This building once was the scene of celebration, concerts, and parties for local Black people in the 1960’s. Those walls, floors, and ceilings are imprinted with memories and you can almost feel their vibrations and smell the echoes of punch and perfume. Using the Elks Lodge is a prime example of Widman Davis’s desire to move their work to “environmentally immersive productions” instead of traditionally white spaces.
Wideman Davis Dance, formed in 2003 by Thaddeus Davis and Tanya Wildman-Davis, resided in Montgomery for about a year creating this piece reflecting its local audience. Their statement as artists is “Our intent is to examine, create, and be inspired by Black life, existence, and imagination.” Migratuse Reimagined: Montgomery focuses on Black joy and freedom found in the night and social clubs of the 1960’s. The performance is composed of nine pieces, each with a unique accompaniment of music. The stage was surrounded by the audience and four residential sets that looked like front porches, living rooms, and dining areas with banquettes. This is where the dancers waited their turns to perform although there was often movement, singing, and conversations happening in those sets.
There were also projections of interviews with community members who discussed what life was like during the heyday of the Elks Lodge. They talked about their hopes, dreams, loves, and ambitions. They discussed the wonder of freedom they found in the segregated nightclubs and social clubs in the South. Because the Elks Lodge, like so many others offered a safe space for people of color. A space where men and women could enjoy themselves without fear of harassment, imprisonment, or injury.
The piece that I found the most engaging was “Walk On By” and I knew it was going to be incredible when I heard the Isaac Hayes rendition. It’s the sultry, sexy, Stax Records version, not the poppy Warwick version, and it was the perfect reminder of who the Elk Lodge was for. The dancers who performed it completely conveyed the longing and lyricism Bacharach intended and I still think about their dance.
I also enjoyed the simulated Spades battle of “Kung Fu”, written by Curtis Mayfield, and the Soul Train-esque community movement in “After The Dance” written by Marvin Gaye and Leon Ware. I wish I’d been able to attend each and every performance of Migratuse Reimagined: Montgomery but I’m grateful that I had this one chance.
The artists completed the performance and then invited the audience to sit with them and engage with a spirited Q & A. It turns out Thaddeus Davis grew up near the Elks Lodge and knew several of the audience members. Hearing his perspective of growing up in Montgomery and observing how the city and neighborhood have changed (adapting, evolving, and growing while shrinking) helped me understand Migratuse Reimagined even more. It turns out, you CAN go home again when you understand that you and “home” are both the same and different.
And although this performance has ended, Wideman Davis Dance will perform their Migratuse Ataraxia in Alabama this August and I am so excited to experience this piece. I encourage you to follow them on social media and sign up for their newsletter so you can also attend.
Have you attended a Wideman Davis performance? What was your favorite piece?