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Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s Urban Bush Women and the National Song and Dance Company of Mozambique will present their dance/theater collaboration, Shadow’s Child, Feb. 7-8 at Lafayette’s Williams Center for the Arts.

The first performance will be a full-length production 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7. Tickets cost $4 with Lafayette ID and $20 for the public. They may be purchased by calling the box office at 610-330-5009.

A one-hour family performance will take place 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8. Tickets cost $12, also through the box office. The show features the choreography of Urban Bush Women, with steps and movements rooted in African traditions and African-American social dances; the life-size puppets of designer Debbie Cohen, which simulate the animals of the forest; drums, songs, and ballophone music from Mozambique; and a clear story narrative accessible to children and youth.

“There have been dance troupes built around anthropological investigations, there have been dance troupes that grew out of political movements. But Urban Bush Women are in a category unto themselves,” reports New York Newsday. “In fact, given the breadth and freedom of their art, they defy categorization.”

Shadow’s Child was created by the two dance companies in partnership with composer Michael Wimberly and Cohen. The program premiered at the 2002 Lincoln Center Festival. The companies are involved in a multi-year partnership funded by the 651 Arts Africa Exchange Project, initiated to foster collaborations between U.S.-based artists and those living in Africa.

“Charm may be a devalued word, but it retains its most positive resonance when applied to Shadow’s Child,” notes The New York Times.

In the Saturday family performance, young people will enjoy the colorful pageantry, the lively dancing, and the touching story of a young African girl’s struggle to adapt to a strange American culture. Parents and adults will find additional richness in the artistic textures of the work to satisfy their own performance interests.

Founder and artistic director of Urban Bush Women, Zollar has received two Inter-Arts grants and three Choreographer’s Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her company has toured extensively throughout the United States and Europe. She also received an honorary doctorate from Columbia College Chicago in recognition of her artistic achievements and creative excellence in the world of dance. She is prominently featured in the PBS documentary “Free to Dance,” which chronicles the African-American influence on modern dance.

One of six children, Zollar was born in Kansas City, Mo. Steeped in sacred and secular aspects of African-American culture, she grew up doing musical revues. Her first dance teacher was Joseph Stevenson, a student of American dance pioneer Katherine Dunham. With a bachelor’s degree in dance from University of Missouri (Kansas City) and a master’s in fine arts from Florida State University, she came to New York in 1980 to study with Dianne McIntyre, artistic director of Sounds in Motion. After four years, she left McIntyre’s studio to establish Urban Bush Women.

Through live music, a cappella vocalizations, and movement, Urban Bush Women explores the religious traditions and folklore of the African diaspora. In an article entitled “Urban Bush Women: Dances for the Homeless,” writer Ntozake Shange describes Zollar’s work: “The ensemble that Jawole Willa Jo Zollar has assembled and sustained takes women’s bodies, racist myths, sexist stereotypes, post-modern conventions and the ‘science’ of hip-hop and catapults them over the rainbow, so they come tumbling out of the grin of the man in the moon.”

Influenced by the writings of Toni Morrison, Ishmael Reed, and Alice Walker, Zollar creates “a sense of community on stage,” often in collaboration with other artists, such as folklorist and vocalist Tiye Giraud, choreographer Pat Hill-Smith, and percussionists David Pleasant and Edwina Lee Tyler. Some of her best-known works are “Song of Lawino” (1988), “I Don’t Know, But I’ve Been Told, If You Keep on Dancin’ You’ll Never Grow Old” (1989), and “Praise House” (1990).

Zollar and Urban Bush Women received a 1992 Bessie Award (New York Dance and Performance Award) for their collective work on the dances River Songs (1984) and Praise House (1990), among others. In 1994, UBW was the first company to receive the Capezio Award, a $10,000 prize for outstanding achievement in dance. Selected commissions for Zollar have come from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ballet Arizona, Phildanco, Florida State University and Florida A & M, University of Maryland, and University of Florida.

Zollar delivered the keynote address to the 1980 Dance Critics Association meeting and has been a panelist for the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Arts International. In 1993-94, she was a Worlds of Thought Resident Scholar at Mankato State University in Mankato, Minn., and in 1995-96, she was regents lecturer in the departments of dance and world arts and culture at UCLA. She was a visiting artist at Ohio State University in October 1986. She serves on the advisory board of the American Festival Project and Africa Exchange. In January 1997, she became a tenured professor in the dance department at Florida State University, where she teaches and directs the UBW Summer Dance Institute: A New Dancer for a New Society. Both the University of Missouri at Kansas City (1993) and Florida State University (1997) named Zollar alumna of the year.

Williams Center audiences have seen Zollar perform in 1994 and 1997. Last year, Phildanco presented “Hand Singing Song” with her choreography and an original score by Wimberly

The Urban Bush Women and National Song and Dance Company of Mozambique performance residency is supported by a National Dance Project touring grant, with lead funding from the National Endowment from the Arts and Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and a touring grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

The nationally recognized Performance Series attracts more than 10,000 people each season. It has been cited for performing excellence by the National Endowment for the Arts, National Dance Project, Chamber Music America, Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund, Pennsylvania Arts and Humanities Councils, and Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

The 2002-03 Performance Series at Lafayette is supported in part by gifts from Friends of the Williams Center for the Arts; by the F.M. Kirby Foundation; by provisions of the Alan and Wendy Pesky Artist-in-Residence Program, the James Bradley Fund, and the Ed Brunswick Jazz Fund; and by grants from Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour, and New England Foundation for the Arts.

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