I had the wonderful opportunity to attend  Ishmael Houston-Jones, Ralph Lemon, and Bebe Miller performance Relations. On Saturday, November 3rd, 2018 I drove all the way from Columbus, OH to Chicago, IL (5.75-hour drive) to be able to see this once in a lifetime performance of three wonderful movers, makers, and shakers I truly adore. They haven’t ever in life performed together in this way before. But, they did dance together many years ago at____________________________. This night they were at The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA).

I came in and hurried up and found a seat because I was 5 min late. I see Ralph in the back with a plat slowly putting himself under it, rolling out, and stacking it up against the wall. Ishmael was far to the right of Ralph doing an arm dance to himself. Bebe was close to center stage doing a similar arm dance with herself. I didn’t read the program at all, but my mind was saying. Hmm, what is the message here? What do they want me to see?  It hit me midway, This is an improvisation! This is honesty! OMG! THIS IS AMAZING! I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. On Everything, I kept wondering what was next. 

Parts of the performance I remember and will cherish (not in order of show): 

  • Ralph yelling “Dance Chucky Dance! at Ishmael
  • Ralph dancing with Ishmael under the plats 
    • Bebe jumping on top of them later, giggling
  • Ishmael always wanting to dance with Bebe or by Bebe
  • Ishmael doing his own thing upstage left
  • Ishmael crying after a deep improv jam to heavy rock music as Ralph yells “Move Chucky Move”
  • Bebe replies “That’s my friend” after sharing a story on how her kindergarten friend was mean and yet she still was kind to them
  • Bebe quick reply to having Ralph slowdown and take it easy as they dance together
  • Ralph sharing a personal story on the mic facing upstage and Ishmael sitting really close to him as he reads
  • Lights going in and out randomly/ on cue
  • Vinyl’s and live music played at will on stage
  • Bebe being the last one to leave the stage after dancing alone

Taken from Tara Willis FB. Photo credit: Dan Merlo @merlomedia,www.merlomedia.com 

After the performance, there was a talkback segment where they each individually talked about the process. Bebe, Ralph, and Ishmael discussed their lineages, their rehearsal process, and the relationships they’ve maintained with each other throughout the years. For me, this was my mmm hmmm moment. My dancing heartfelt acknowledged by these well-renowned creatives. As Tara Willis, the curator places so elegantly in her opening, they are the guideposts. They did it so I can. Representation is so important. 

Their work
shaped the scene that younger generations of
dancers now move through; I’ve looked to
each of them over my career as guideposts for
what dance can be and what choices black
artists can make.

Tara Willis, Curator

Growing up, for many, when you hear about black dance you think of the Ailey lineage. And while we love and adore him and his efforts, we much acknowledge the others who did go down that route. For these three, the choices they made, the conversations they’ve led, and the work they created, allows me and my peers to dream and achieve big. At the end of their discussion, I hugged all three of them. Ralph Lemon asked me if he is passing the torch to me. I smiled so big and said I hope so. He smiled back and said I will, he believes in me. On the inside, I was screaming and crying tears of joy, the outside I nodded and smiled.

My instructor, Andre Zachery, and I had the pleasure of sitting with the curator, Tara Willis, and her friends and peers at dinner. With the view of the performers at the other table, I got the chance to hear the backstory to this event happening. She gleefully shared how this all came about with a conversation with Ishmael. She asked in many other words if he could dance with anyone who would it be and Voila! From there we broke bread, shared life stories, and our viewpoints of many different subjects.  We laughed, teared up, and enjoyed each others company. In the end, I asked if Tara can take a picture with the performers. It became an instant photoshoot!