Improvising While Black on Vashon Island


Join artists mayfield brooks and Karen Nelson at Open Space for Arts and Community on February 10 at 1pm for an exclusive Sunday afternoon performance Improvising While Black on Vashon Island. The spontaneous approach in this performance will tackle the poetics of racial justice, and dancing as a radical act. Tickets at the door are by donation and will benefit taking this work into the community. The show will be followed by an audience talk back.

Improvising While Black on Vashon Island brings together New York-based African American performer and dance innovator Mayfield Brooks and Vashon-based international touring dance mutator Karen Nelson, who is white, together in collaboration within mayfield’s ongoing project IWB/Improvising While Black. IWB is composed of dance, movement, storytelling, singing, and visual imagery used to express and raise awareness about embodied racial justice. The work provokes action and engagement with issues of identity, diversity, and community accountability. IWB intends to create a culture of support and beloved community for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and white allies.

Supported by a 4 Culture grant, the purpose of this project is to offer the Vashon community new experiences outside of the prevailing culture, and provide a context for the necessity of racial justice work through an artistic lens. The presentation, which is co-sponsored by Vashon-Maury Showing Up for Racial Justice/ SURJ and generously supported by Open Space, is an on-going call to action, and hopes to foster racial understanding and connection in our community.

What is dance improvisation? What is Blackness in a world where most things Black and/or African are reviled, demonized, erased while at the same time desired, coveted and appropriated? What is a Black Aesthetic? Is it all made up? These are some of mayfield’s questions that collaborate with Nelson’s long standing body of work exploring dance as a place to unravel personal identity, narrative, and whiteness. For both artists, spontaneous movement and dance improvisation offer a vital frame in which representation can be questioned, fear and hate investigated, and skepticism and self-preservation explored.

Improvising While Black on Vashon Island will be the first live performance to come out of the cross-continental collaboration between brooks and Nelson, who met five years ago on Lasqueti Island in British Columbia. Since meeting they have made videos, published collaborative interviews in Contact Quarterly and have negotiated BIPOC + allies spaces in workshop settings, and continue to research together intermittently across geographic hurdles. This upcoming reunion in February is an especially vital and heart-felt boost to their collaboration.

“The death rattle of all that sits between real love and the end of love is purely a mistake, and any injustice knows this about itself. “ (mayfield and karen)
“The design of brooks’s ‘Improvising While Black’…breaks the framework for presentation. It is not one thing; it is different things. People gather not to just watch people do stuff but possibly do stuff themselves. Anything originally planned for one point in time might easily show up in another. And we all bring ourselves to it because it can’t exist without us.”

–Eva Yaa Asantewaa, Infinite Body
* (mayfield brooks uses the pronoun they, as well as lower case letters for their name.)