4:29 pm
Mon April 19, 2004

Gelede Spectacles

Four years of excitement culminates at Airlie Arts Festival.

Wilmington NC – [Click the Listen button to hear Richard's commentary.]

On Wednesday night I was surrounded by my favorite people on earth: dancers, drummers, stilters, giant goddess puppeteers, twin mask dancers and processional children. Sound enticing? It?s just one part of the Gelede Spectacles, a four-year community project culminating April thirtieth through May second at the Second Annual Airlie Arts Festival being held at?Airlie Gardens. More about the Gelede Spectacles Pavilion at Airlie in a minute. First a little background.

Exactly four years ago this month I received a phone call on behalf of the Cameron Art Museum that would have a profound impact upon my life and career. Suzanne Palmer, a leader in Wilmington?s dance community, also got the call. It was from the North Carolina Arts Council: a remarkable statewide project was in the works and we were being asked to coordinate down here in our neck of the woods.

An initial year of planning and developing what was then known as the African American Dance Ensemble Residency Project commenced what ultimately has become the largest residency ever conducted in Wilmington. The project?s mission is to promote African dance, drum and culture as well as ?and here?s the really important part?interactive and productive partnership, within the community. Interaction between different parts of the whole community. The energetic and talented members of Chuck Davis?s Durham-based troupe have visited us two weeks each year to conduct community workshops, movement and drum sessions, and otherwise provide inspiration to help us fulfill that mission.

Partnership was built into the project?s mission from the outset because we knew that four years is a long run for a project and success would come only through the sharing of ideas, energies and responsibilities. When the African American Dance Ensemble wasn?t with us the other fifty weeks of each of the three years, project organizers kept working to engage participants. Dozens of community visual workshops and social moments. Suzanne Palmer has conducted a weekly movement session while Perry Smith has worked with a group of dedicated community drummers every Wednesday night at the School of Learning Arts here in town. Relentless, tireless, passionate and professional -- and utterly underpaid -- each of them. It?s been a long journey?

In year two we customized the project locally into our own theme, inspired by the gourd art of Michele Tejuola Turner. The Gelede Spectacles are held typically after the first spring rains in the Yoruba cultures of western African to honor the role and power of women within the community or village. They involved drumming, dancing, masking and storytelling and were an ideal creative platform to modernize for the project?s efforts within this community.

There are so many more details and moments, high points and the low, but ultimately it all comes back to partnership -- which has been the whole point of the project. The City of Wilmington, DREAMS After School Program, Edens Institute, Wilmington Children?s Museum and Airlie Gardens have all provided resources and participants. And because one can never have enough help, WHQR has stepped in at the end as a partner to provide recording resources for storyteller Joyce Grear and a group of participants who will share tales about important women in their lives on this station?s airwaves in conjunction with Mother?s Day.

Join us at the Gelede Spectacles Pavilion during the Airlie Arts Festival the weekend of April thirtieth through May second. The Pavilion will feature Joyce Grear and the community storytellers, African-themed interactive children?s art stations, dancing and drumming. The African American Dance Ensemble performs a main stage concert with our community participants at 6pm Saturday, May 1 that starts with a processional including Brigade Boys and Girls Club children, stilters, twin mask dancers, the Ensemble and the Giant Goddess Puppet ? a must see. Interactive Bantaba ? or Dancing Grounds?on Sunday.

And thank you, WHQR, for being a Gelede Spectacles community partner and for twenty years being a vital partner in exploring and promoting our community?s social and cultural livelihood. See you at Airlie?