“What do you like about living in Wilmington?” It’s a question I get asked a lot, with which I tend to answer like this:
“We have people living here who work at a really high caliber in their field. You can meet them. You can work with them. You can learn from them. There are not layers and layers of gatekeepers in front of them.”
The flip side is, as a result, we have raised several generations of artists who have grown up learning their craft from top artists in their fields. A true hometown favorite is Kevin Lee-y Green, cofounder and artistic director of Techmoja Dance and Theatre Company. Kevin is an incredibly talented dancer and choreographer whose work is well-known here in ILM, but has in the last few years been getting more and more attention across the country. He teaches, he creates, he innovates, and if you have ever seen his work, you will not forget it.
Most recently, Green and Techmoja have made it to the final round of consideration for a grant from the National Dance Project (NDP). One-hundred-and-seventy proposals were considered for 2019, and 36 were selected to go on to the next round. Twenty projects will be chosen to receive funding, which according to the National Dance Project will include up to $45,000 to create a new work, $10,000 in unrestricted general operating support, and up to $35,000 in tour subsidies. The NDP further notes finalists who are not selected for the full funding will still receive $1,000.
The National Dance Project came into being as a result of the cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEFA). In the early ‘90s, a senator from North Carolina named Jesse Helms garnered his gain to fame with a passionate battle against the NEFA. According to the NEFA website:
“As a result of the ‘culture wars’ of the early ‘90s, congressional cuts to the programs left a void in financial support for dance that threatened the future of dance touring and—ultimately—dance as an art form.”
A venture called “The New England Dance Project” launched to try and support touring dance in New England. From it grew a national effort that has become the National Dance Project.
Green’s proposal centers around the development of a new work titled “Quiet As It’s Kept (QAIK).”
“It is about historical sexual trauma through the lens of Southern blackness,” Green explains. “I interviewed several people who were survivors; I’ve learned that is the word we should use instead of ‘victim’ of sexual trauma. Protecting people’s identities, I’m going to create vignettes of dance based upon their stories.”
Green notes he is aware of the enormity of what a project like this entails. He calls it a difficult task, to say the least.
“People are trusting me with their personal memoirs of sexual trauma,” he details. “It can easily be sensationalized, and my goal is not to do that—I want to keep it authentic.”
Thinking back to “Pulse,” a piece he created around the Pulse nightclub shooting, which happened in Orlando in 2016, describing it as “eschewing sensationalism and stereotypes for authenticity” is accurate. Green confirms he had already started interviewing people before he knew about the grant opportunity. The very visual and physical nature of the stories makes them resonate on stage. Green says one story involves a survivor regaining her memory of the events of the night.
“She said she literally woke up the next day in her bra and underwear,” he retells. “She saw the guy there and she sat up, and started thinking, as she was putting on her clothing, there was something about each piece of clothing that helped her remember how it came off and what happened. Then he woke up and he wouldn’t let her leave because she remembered. So she had to fight to get out.”
Green pauses to collect himself during our interview—processing what fear must have pulsated through this particular survivor. He doesn’t take lightly the enormity of trust he’s being given to turn the stories into displays of art.
“I plan to take gestural movements and shape them for dance,” he explains, “take them and abstract them, so it’s still physical and not just pantomime.”
Green is in constant motion. His hands and body gesture and express in movement, reflecting his words. That dance and choreography are his primary language is self-evident even in minor communication with him. The stage provides a specific canvas and context for his work Green, however, is planning to stage the work in a park. Perhaps even more important, he can engage more audience with the work this way.
At this point, Green thinks his piece will involve about 8 to 10 dancers; though he notes Techmoja Dance Company has 16 dancers to draw from. “I would love to share these submerged stories all over the U.S. and maybe even internationally at some point. This is a work I plan to tour for a while,” Green admits.
In his project description Green draws from a specific history and context. His project description reads:
“For centuries, the sexual assault of African-American men, women, and children was woven into the fabric of our country. As writer Junot Diaz puts it: ‘Bodies like mine [multiracial bodies] were raped into existence.’ The impact of this feature of American racism is ongoing and has cascading consequences that make African-Americans more susceptible to sexualized violence.”
In a way, this is a culmination of what he and Techmoja cofounder and Green’s late mother, Donna Joyner Green, had planned for the company. Techmoja always has promoted diversity, but more so they want to empower African American performers. That includes having the work seen and ultimately include tours.
“This was also a dream of hers,” Green says of his mother. “When we founded this, we had intentions of touring eventually. It would be great to receive the grant. If not, I’m still going to tour it—I have to.”
Like many artists, Green traces his interest in the arts to childhood. He tells of writing his own shows and getting kids in his neighborhood to perform them. He threw popcorn parties to help persuade them.
“The kids would come and sit at picnic tables and we would do a read-through and then we would stage the show,” he recollects.
Everything changed when he saw an audition notice for a children’s theatre production of “Babes in Toyland.” Local actress Michelle Reiff cast him as Little Boy Blue. Though he was writing his own shows, he constantly was looking for every performance opportunity he could find. Such early opportunities and experiences are part of why Green teaches dance and part of why he wants to tour his work. He wants young people to have the opportunity to see themselves on stage.
“I feel like being where I’m at now as an artist, it’s my job, especially as a black artist, to really begin to take back our narratives—and to present them through an authentic lens,” Green tells.