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Department of African American Studies

Setting the stage

AFAM Studies’ artists Tanya wideman-Davis and Thaddeus Davis, both associate professors, were recently one of two Southern dance companies to win the prestigious New England Foundation for the Arts, National Dance Project Grant for the production “Migratuse Ataraxia.” They were among 20 dance companies and individual artists to receive the award, including industry veterans The Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Liz Lerman, and Lucinda Childs. 

On winning the award, Davis said, “We are extremely excited about this National Dance Project Grant. It will allow us to delve deeper into some of the ideas and thoughts we have been considering and have worked on sporadically for three years. It is humbling to have our work recognized and honored with this support, but the process of forging collaborations is what is most exciting.”

“Migratuse Ataraxia” explores how enslaved Africans were erased from Antebellum existence. The Davis’ will be creating a work to illustrate that concept and taking it on tour to be performed in Antebellum spaces throughout the South. 

In this new digital media age, the duo is integrating all media into the performance, not just acting on stage. “For example, screens (iPad, mobile phone, computers, monitors) are a major part of the current culture and we attempt to reflect the culture by bringing screens into our work. We use screens to give the viewer entry points into viewing sets of ideas and themes being explored through a dance work,” Davis said.

Another important element of the project is the interdisciplinary artmaking and collaboration component. Antebellum spaces are historic repositories of a shared history of both the enslaved and the people who enslaved them. Wideman-Davis and Davis aren’t interested in creating a historical work, but they do feel the figurative weight of the spaces and feel a profound sense of responsibility to present authentic performances reflecting the times, so, their performances will take place in plantation homes. Executive Director of Historic Columbia, Robin Waites, has committed Hampton Preston Mansion and Gardens as a space to workshop and perform the piece in the spring of 2019.

Davis said, “We are working with contemporary movement and ideas that are very current, yet reflective on our past as we project future possibilities. To do so we are working with movement, sounds, food, smells and visual art ideas to help our process.”

Wideman-Davis and Davis will be working with an eclectic group of collaborators to include Columbia visual-performance artist Michaela Pilar Brown, curator and scholar of performance theory Myron M. Beasley and dramaturg Gina Kohler.

Historic Columbia and the Alabama Dance Council are also presenting partners.

This fall, the presenting team will be researching the existence of enslaved Africans in antebellum life by sifting through historic images and recordings of former slaves, compiling text, creating new digital media, movement invention and construction.

“Migratuse Ataraxia” is supported by a Provost Grant from the University of South Carolina's Provost’s Office, a research grant from the College of Arts and Science's Deans Office with additional support from the Department of Theatre and Dance and African American Studies program. 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.