Archiving Black Performance Part 1 -Pearl Primus “Bushasche Etude”-

Archiving, Performance, Research Project

I had an amazing opportunity to learn Bushasche Etude, choreographed by Pearl Primus over the first 7 weeks of this semester. Dr. Ursla Payne, who was the prior assistant of Peral Primus came to visit OSU and directly taught us the choreography. The learning process with her taught me so many things!

Bushasche Etude is choreographed in 1948. It was based on a traditional dance from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Dr. Primus was inspired by Bushasche, War Dance, A Dance for Peace in which the participants call up the gods of war and defeat them.

Cast members and Dr.Payne, our professor Prof.Perkins and Dr.Williams

First, the transmission of the movement through different bodies was interesting. On the first day of the rehearsal, we learned the motivation and passion of Dr.Primus’s artmaking. We read and watched her artistic statement and performance brochures. She wanted to bring African aesthetics to the United States population. However, it made me also think that “am I allowed to dance this choreography?” I was worried about embodying the choreography might offend Dr. Primus’s initial intention. I asked Dr. Payne my fear. Her answer was simple, “You can be a translator.” She said there is no need to be afraid. Embodying the choreography is meaningful for more people to invite and shed light on Dr.Primus’s work. Filling the gap between the choreography and my own aesthetic and living experience. It was a huge relief for me to embrace this learning process.

The philosophy of embodying the choreography, we often get out of the dance studio and feel the presence of people, sky, trees, the ground…all surroundings that we don’t see inside of the building. Using all five senses to fully engage and imagine ourselves in the land of Africa is crucial to this piece. Dr. Payne always shouts to us “feel the earth, listen to our breath, dance together.”

It was a beautiful 7 weeks and 3 performances at African American and African Studies Community Extension Center and Bernett Theater. Very fortunate to trace back the history and showcase it in the present day.

Performance at African American and African Studies Community Extension Cente

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