A multimedia journey into the world of young urban men and the "prison pipeline"

Rebecca Bailey, Hopkins Center Publicity Coordinator/Writer

December 5, 2019: Beautiful words, music and dance that pry the lid off a persistent American reality.

HANOVER, NH—Why do so many black American men end up in prison? Who are they and what are their stories? How does skin pigmentation color the way authorities—from teachers to law enforcement officers—treat young men?

In The Just and the Blind, a poet, a musician and a dancer dive into these questions with clarity and passion, constructing an evening of poignant vignettes of music, words, dance and song that testify to the realities facing American black boys and men. The show will be presented on Thursday, January 16, 7:30 pm, at the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College.

Composer-violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain (known by the initials "DBR") and spoken-word artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph are joined by flexing street dance pioneer Drew Dollaz, who brings mind-blowing movement to the mix of music, spoken and recorded words and evocative projections. Conceived and written by Joseph with DBR's original music, the show draws on the Joseph's own personal experiences of fatherhood as well as a recorded conversation with a young man imprisoned for life for a crime committed in his youth. 

In a special collaborative arrangement only for Dartmouth, the performance will also include vocalists led by Walt Cunningham, Dartmouth director of Pop Music Ensembles.

Two additional programs offer the public a chance to interact with the artists:

  • A flex dancing master class with Dollaz, Tuesday, January 14, 5:30 pm, Straus Dance Studio, $12 for adults, free for students and youth but RSVP required; and 
  • A pre-performance conversation with the artists about live arts and activism, on Thursday, January 16, 6:30–7:15 pm, Top of the Hop, free.

Framed by visually striking photography and animation projections, the performance explores racial profiling and the prison-industrial complex in a seamless flow of short vignettes that include DBR's electro-acoustic music on violin and piano; searing dance interludes by Dollaz;  and Joseph's spoken word. The creative team also includes Michael John Garcés (director), David Szlasa (projection designer), Lisa Armstrong (investigative journalist), Xia Gordon (animator), and Brittsense (photographer). 

When it premiered at Carnegie Hall, which commissioned the work, the New York Times called The Just and the Blind a "raw, cry from the soul new work ... driven by Mr. Joseph's stinging, brilliant words ... Mr. Joseph voices the thoughts of a black father who admits to being afraid when, at night, he walks past young black men who look the same age as his son. Every day, he tells his son, the boy's main mission in life is 'to come home to me.' " The New Yorker praised Joseph and DBR's "viscerally eloquent partnership, infusing artistic expression with social activism and their shared experience as Haitian-American men," which in this work also includes "the supremely lithe street-dance choreographer Drew Dollaz ... in a multidisciplinary work that examines racial injustice and juvenile incarceration."

DBR has been getting to know the Hop region over this year through multiple collaborations with Vermont artists through a residency involving Burlington's Flynn Center, University of Vermont's Lane Series and the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. In October, he was joined by more than 30 local artists in a 24-hour public performance on Burlington's Church Street in protest of Trump administration policies on issues including immigration. Other public events this year include a solo performance, a Saturday morning family performance, and a collaborative performance with Waterbury new music collective TURNmusic.

DBR and Joseph previously collaborated on We Shall Not Be Moved, a chamber opera co-commissioned by Opera Philadelphia and the Apollo Theater, directed by Bill T. Jones, which the New York Times called one of the "the best classical music performances of 2017."

The three principal artists are each at the forefront of their fields. A 2017 TEDGlobal Fellow and Bessie nominee, Joseph graced the cover of Smithsonian Magazine as one of America's Top Young lnnovators in the Arts and Sciences and was an inaugural recipient of the United States Artists Rockefeller Fellowship, which annually recognizes 50 of the country's greatest living artists. Dance Magazine named him a Top Influencer in 2017. A career arts administrator, he recently left San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for a newly created role at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. His life in art began in dance: he made his Broadway debut at age 10, as the tap dancing understudy to Savion Glover in The Tap Dance Kid. He went on the national tour and was on TV by age 12.

DBR's acclaimed work as a composer and genre-bending violinist spans more than two decades and collaborators as diverse as Philip Glass, Bill T. Jones, Savion Glover and Lady Gaga. The New York Times called him "about as omnivorous as a contemporary artist gets." Known for his signature violin sounds infused with myriad electronic, urban and African-American music influences, DBR also is composer of chamber, orchestral and operatic works; has won an Emmy for Outstanding Musical Composition for his collaborations with ESPN; has featured as keynote performer at technology conferences; and has created large scale, site-specific musical events for public spaces. Other recent projects include Cipher, a new "pocket opera" for the Philadelphia Boys Choir, with a libretto by Joseph, based on the incarceration of young, black boys.

Dollaz is a pioneer of flexing, a Brooklyn-based genre of street dance, also referred to as "bone breaking," characterized by rhythmic contortionist movements. A self-taught dancer, Dollaz is known for blending flexing with other styles including ballet to create a transcendent hybrid of movement artistry. He has performed and partnered with a broad range of artists including Madonna and Rihanna, and he's a leader in Next Level Squad, a New York City collective of flexing dancers which has garnered more than a million views on YouTube and has been featured on World of Dance, The Breakin' Convention and America's Got Talent. Arts education and youth empowerment are core tenets of Dollaz's work and he currently mentors young dancers and teaches internationally.