The Ritual of Breath Is the Rite to Resist
Artwork: Enrico Riley, Keep on Breathing

The Ritual of Breath Is the Rite to Resist

September 16 - 17, 2022

An offering. An opera in seven movements. A call for justice.

2022/23 Season

Responding to the murder of Eric Garner, this meditative and immersive work is a creative act of resistance. Centering the voice and plea of an activist / daughter / soprano, The Ritual of Breath Is the Rite to Resist interweaves music, text, visuals and movement, gathering us together as co-conspirers—to breathe and keep breathing any way we can.

Commissioned and produced by Hopkins Center for the Arts
Co-commissioned by Stanford Live

The opera is preceded by six days of digital and in-person rituals, inviting participants to share in communal acts of healing and reflection. We'll share these rituals and activations with you as they are announced.

Join In

Reverberating against the ongoing theft of Black breath by the police, the work was born from a collaboration between Enrico Riley '95, a painter and Dartmouth professor of Studio Arts, and Jonathan Berger, a composer and professor of Music at Stanford. The two engaged Vievee Francis, a poet and member of the Dartmouth English department, to craft the powerful libretto. As the project has evolved to include other artist-activists, pioneering theater artist Niegel Smith '02 joined as director.

Throughout its journey, the creative team has been inspired by the healing practices of survivor mothers who have lost their children to state-sanctioned violence. Guided by Dr. Shamell Bell and in concert with Eric Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, the work reflects the experiences and conversations held among the artists, these mothers, Dartmouth students and our local community affected by the crisis. This social impact work is the grounding for seven rituals, each rooted in one of the seven movements in the opera. These participatory rituals are shared with all of us co-conspirers—artists, activists, attendees—in the days leading up to the opera. 

Jonathan Berger, composer
Enrico Riley, visual artist
Vievee Francis, librettist
Niegel Smith director
Kamna Gupta, conductor
Neema Bickersteth, soprano, co-choreographer
Trebien Pollard, dancer, co-choreographer
Dr. Shamell Bell, co-social impact director
Gwen Carr, co-social impact director
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, consulting choreographer
Kim Whitener, creative producer

Neema Bickersteth, soprano
Greg Ward, saxophone
Fung Chern Hwei, violin
Titilayo Ayengade, cello
Mikael Darmanie, piano
Bonnie Anne Whiting, percussion
Trebien Pollard, dancer
Isaiah Robinson, lead chorister
Community Chorus

Peter Nigrini, scenic & projection
Reza Behjat, lights
Espii Proctor, sound
Gabriel Berry, costumes
Stage Manager: Jason Kaiser
Production Manager: Brian Freeland

Generously supported by the Wetzel Family Fund for the Arts, the Virginia and James Giddens 1959 Fund, The MAP Fund which is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Barbara J. and Richard W. Couch Jr. '64 E'65, and by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Vievee Francis, librettist
Poet Vievee Francis is author of Forest Primeval (2017), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, Horse in the Dark (2012), winner of the Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize among others. Her work has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Best American Poetry 2010 and Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. She was the recipient of the 2009 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award and the 2010 Kresge Artist Fellowship. A Cave Canem Fellow, she is currently Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College.

Enrico Riley, visual artist
Enrico Riley is the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, a Rome Prize in Visual Arts, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Purchase Prize in painting, and a Jacobus Family Fellowship through Dartmouth College. Exhibitions include the American Academy in Rome, Rome, Italy, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, VA, The Columbus Museum, Columbus, GA, The Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, TX, The American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City, Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, NH, The Museum for the National Center of Afro-American Arts in Roxbury, MA, Academia di Belle Arti di Roma, Rome, Italy, Rhode Island School of Design. Riley is Professor of Studio Art at Dartmouth College.

Jonathan Berger, composer
Thrice commissioned by The National Endowment for the Arts, Berger has also received major commissions from The Mellon and Rockefeller Foundations, Chamber Music America, and numerous chamber music societies and ensembles. Recent commissions include his operas, My Lai (commissioned by The National Endowment, the Gerbode Foundation, and Harris Theatre), and Leonardo (commissioned by the 92nd Street Y for baritone Tyler Duncan), and his song cycle, Rime Sparse (commissioned by the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society and premiered in New York and Chicago, with soprano Julia Bullock, and members of Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society). Berger's most recent recording is Smithsonian-Folkways' recording of My Lai with the Kronos Quartet, Rinde Eckert, and Van Anh Vo. A 2017 Guggenheim Fellow and the 2016 Elliot Carter Rome Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Rome, Berger is the Denning Family Provostial Professor in Music at Stanford University.

Niegel Smith, theater director
Arden: But, Not Without You (The Flea), The Hang (HERE Arts Center), The Fre (The Flea), Southern Promises (The Flea), How To Catch Creation (The Goodman), Taylor Mac's Holiday Sauce (Town Hall, World Tour), Scraps (The Flea), Father Comes Home From The Wars... (The Goodman), Flea Fridays (The Flea), Syncing Ink (The Alley, The Flea), A 24 Decade History of Popular Music... (Pomegranate Arts, St. Ann's Warehouse, Melbourne Festival, et al. - Kennedy Prize & Pulitzer Prize finalist), Take Care (The Flea), Hir (Magic Theatre, Mixed Blood and Playwrights Horizons), Dream State of Affairs (The Invisible Dog), Marisol (Luna Stage), The Perils of Obedience (Abrons Arts Center), Seed (Classical Theatre of Harlem and Hip Hop Theatre Festival), Neighbors (The Public Theater), Limbs: A Pageant (HERE Arts Center), Rainy Days and Mondays (FringeNYC), Maud - The Madness (Phoenix Theatre Ensemble), We Declare You A Terrorist (Summer Play Festival). His participatory walks and performances have been produced by Abrons Arts Center, American Realness, The Brooklyn Museum, Dartmouth College, Elastic City, Jack, The New Museum, Prelude Festival, PS 122, the Van Alen Institute and Visual AIDS. A Bessie Award winning director, he is the Artistic Director of The Flea Theater in lower Manhattan; board member of A.R.T./New York; and ringleader of Willing Participant—an artistic activist organization that whips up urgent poetic responses to crazy shit that happens.

Kamna Gupta, conductor
Kamna Gupta is an American Prize-winning conductor experienced in operatic, orchestral and choral repertoires. During the 2021–2022 season, Ms. Gupta will conduct the world premiere of In Our Daughter's Eyes (Du Yun/ McQuilken) featuring Nathan Gunn at L.A. Opera Off-Grand, Zolle/Cockroach (Du Yun) with International Contemporary Ensemble, and The Jungle Book (Sankaram/ O'Rourke) at the Glimmerglass Festival. She recently conducted Sandbox Figaro, a 90-minute reduction of Mozart's famous work at Mannes Opera. She will also serve as an associate conductor at the Spoleto Festival in spring 2022. In spring 2021, Ms. Gupta had her company debut with Beth Morrison Projects as the co-conductor of their Next Generation Competition, served as associate conductor for the workshop of Arkhipov (Knell/Fleischmann) at Seattle Opera, and returned to The Glimmerglass Festival to work on Il trovatore and the world premiere of The Knock (Vrebalov/Brevoort). Recent company credits include the Royal Opera in Versailles, LA Opera, the Glimmerglass Festival, Beth Morrison Projects, Spoleto Festival, Sarasota Opera, Opera Saratoga, Trinity Church Wall Street and the American Lyric Theater.

Dr. Shamell Bell, social impact director
"Visionary Instigator" of Street Dance Activism and Global Dance Meditation for Black Liberation, Dr. Shamell Bell is a mother, community organizer, dancer/choreographer, and documentary filmmaker. Some of her coolest, original titles include: Visionary Escalator of the Debt Collective and Radical Joy Advisor for Contra Tiempo Activist Dance Theater. Formerly a visiting lecturer of African and African American Studies and Theater at Dartmouth College, Dr. Bell is currently a Lecturer of Somatic Practices and Global Performance at Harvard University and across California State University East Bay and Los Angeles campuses, teaching in Ethnic Studies as well as Women Gender and Sexuality Studies. An original member of the #blacklivesmatter movement, beginning as a core organizer with Justice 4 Trayvon Martin Los Angeles (J4TMLA)/Black Lives Matter Los Angeles to what she now describes as an Arts & Culture liaison between several social justice organizations. She also consults for social justice impact in the tv, film, theater and music industry. Featured in the NYTimes: THE NEW BLACK JOY, a Virtual Event Celebrating Juneteenth. As well as provided background vocals and insight for Esperanza Spalding's Grammy award winning "Songwrights Apothecary Lab", Formwela 8 project. Fall 2021, Dr. Bell along with 5 other artivists were featured in the Lavazza "Change The World" Calendar where she activates, "As we dance our lives together, we are lifting frequencies and lifting vibrations that, with action, will create a shift in the world."

Gwen Carr, co-social impact director
As the matriarch of one of Staten Island's largest African-American families, Gwendolyn Garner has earned nationwide recognition lately as the mother of Eric Garner, a man murdered by the New York Police Department in July of 2014. Caught on camera, his death played an integral role in the ongoing conversation about police brutality in the United States, but her story begins in South Brooklyn, where she lived most of her life. A longtime employee of both the post office and New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Mrs. Garner is now taking the city in which she raised her family to task, advocating for a full serving of justice, not only for her own, but for families of police brutality at the hands of the NYPD. With 3 children, 15 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren, her voice is that of several generations, all of whom have suffered greatly at the loss of their beloved Eric and who grieve for the mothers of victims who have not received extensive media coverage.

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, co-choreographer
In 1984, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar founded Urban Bush Women (UBW) to explore the use of cultural expression as a catalyst for social change. The company has toured five continents and has performed at venues including Brooklyn Academy of Music, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and The Kennedy Center. Using Jawole's unique approach to the arts and activism, UBW's acclaimed Summer Leadership Institute supports artists' role in cultural organizing and civic engagement. In 2010, UBW was selected as one of three U.S. dance companies to inaugurate a cultural diplomacy program for the U.S. Department of State. Jawole is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, the 2015 Dance Magazine Award, the 2016 Dance/USA Honor Award and the 2017 Bessies Lifetime Achievement Award. Jawole is currently the Nancy Smith Fichter Professor of Dance and Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor at Florida State University.

Neema Bickersteth, soprano, co-choreographer
Canadian soprano Neema Bickersteth was born and raised in Alberta to parents from Sierra Leone. She is known for her skills as a singer, an actor and a maker of multi-disciplinary performance. She has performed operatic roles in both Canada and Europe, and in recent years, she has specialized in contemporary projects in opera, music theater and experimental theater, including Century Song, a work she co-created and has toured in Canada, Europe and East Africa to critical acclaim. NOW Magazine (Toronto) has named her as one of the top ten theater artists in the city. She has won once and been nominated three times for Outstanding Performance at Toronto's Dora Mavor Moore awards. In addition, Neema has been honored to perform for the XIVth Dalai Lama, Shirin Ebadi and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She is a co-founder of and artistic producer for the experimental collective Moveable Beast. Upcoming: singing the title role in Volcano's and Moveable Beast's Scott Joplin's Treemonisha, a reworking of ragtime giant Scott Joplin's visionary 1911 blues/rag/gospel opera.

Trebien Pollard, dancer, co-choreographer
Trebien Pollard is an assistant professor of Dance + Choreography. He received training at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, Florida A&M University, Florida State University, Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, and from a number of gifted teachers and choreographers. Pollard has performed with many dance companies, including RIOULT, the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Ronald K. Brown/ Evidence, Bebe Miller Company, Urban Bush Women and Pilobolus. As a choreographer, Pollard has choreographed and toured with RASA recording artist "Nomad" and choreographed for director William "Electric" Black's "The Hamlet Project," "The Damned: A Rock Musical" and "Frankenstein: The Rock Musical." He has appeared in the feature film "Ghostlight," starring Richard Move as "Martha Graham." Pollard has been on faculty at the American Dance Festival, Queens College, Adelphi University, the University of Southern Mississippi, Goucher College, Middlebury College, Montclair State University, Marymount Manhattan College and the University at Buffalo, as well as a licensed certified GYROTONIC® and GYROKINESIS® trainer. He earned his MFA in dance from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, and his BS in mathematics education from Florida A&M University.

Isaiah Robinson, lead chorister
Isaiah Robinson, tenor, is a Grammy nominated multi-talented musician who was born in Chicago into a musical family of singing parents. As an actor he was featured in Steven Spielberg's 1991 film Hook, playing the role of Pockets. He has also appeared in several radio and television commercials as a child; most notably, "That's My Baby" for Johnson's Baby Shampoo, a Polaroid commercial featuring the comedian Sinbad as well as advertisements for Kraft, McDonald's, Wendy's, JC Penny, Sears and for Eagle Foods. As a vocalist he was primarily trained singing in church by his parents and his siblings which lead to his performing on several jingles and voiceovers for various products and companies. He has performed with numerous musical artists including The Barrett Sisters, Darius Brooks, Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle, Rascal Flatts, Joan Collaso, Mavis Staples, Janis Siegel, Chaka Khan, Yo-Yo Ma, Chance The Rapper, Queen Latifah, Ted Hearne and a year long tour with Room Full of Teeth vocal ensemble. Isaiah and Ted Hearne have a long-standing a musical relationship, and friendship going all the way back to some years together in the Chicago Children's Choir. He has been privileged to work with Ted on a number of projects including Katrina Ballads, and The Source and many other works that predate his professional career as a composer. Isaiah is humbled that Ted has faith in him and feels he has been made a better musician because of their collaborations. He was the featured vocalist at the inauguration of Rahm Emanuel as mayor of Chicago He performs with and facilitates workshops for the Chicago Children's Choir, and is on staff as a musician/organist and choirmaster at the Life Center C.O.G.I.C in Chicago, where he has served for more than 20 years.


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The Ritual of Breath Is the Rite to Resist
2022/23 Season

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