“To Bring Grandeur Back to Blackness”: Arthur Hall’s Afro-American Dance Ensemble in the Historical Continuum of African Dance Performance in the United States
Ayodele T. Ngozi-Brown
Thesis DT 3.5 1997 N574
viii, 154 leaves; 29 cm.
This study examines the history of African dance performance in the United States beginning with its West African foundations and culminating with a case study of Arthur Hall's Afro-American Dance Ensemble (AHAADE), a contemporary dance company based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania between 1958 and 1988. The study discusses the precursors to self-conscious African dance performance in America-including plantation dances and minstrelsy-and their context within the history of African American theater. The artistic contributions and institutions of many of the "first generation" of African American dancers and choreographers self-consciously working toward the development of African dance performance and instruction are discussed in-depth in the first half of the study.
The second part of the thesis focuses specifically on three aspects of Arthur Hall's work with AHAADE. Chapters Four and Five discuss the ensemble's function as a community based arts institution and the social role it played in bridging West African, Caribbean, African American and European American cultures through performance and education. The sixth chapter analyzes the aesthetic and political contexts of Hall's choreography and his place within the Blackstream/ Mainstream artistic debate of the 1960s and '70s. Chapter seven provides a choreographic analysis of the ensemble's performance of the Yoruba-derived "Obatala," its signature work.
The author's primary thesis is that Hall and AHAADE are located within an historical and aesthetic continuum of African dance performance in the United States which has its roots in West Africa. Hall's work is clearly influenced by the contributions of earlier dance pioneers in the U.S., particularly Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus. However, the historical and political contexts in which AHAADE emerged created distinct differences in Hall's aesthetic vision and choreography, expanding on the work of those earlier pioneers.