Introducing: “Public Enemy”

October 1, 2020

The Painted Bride Art Center is very excited to be Co-Commissioners on DANCE IQUAIL!’s “Public Enemy (PE).” Public Enemy is about the humanity of Black men and the diversity of that humanity. This Philadelphia-based community dance project by choreographer Iquail Shaheed explores Black male identity in the context of social issues that disproportionately affect Black men—particularly policing, incarceration, and racialized violence. PE includes a run of stage performances and extensive community engagement with Black and Latino residents and returned citizens in the historically disinvested Mantua community of West Philadelphia.

Public Enemy (PE) will result in a 90-minute dance-theater production, choreographed/directed by Iquail Shaheed, in collaboration with William Cobb, a civil rights leader, storyteller Daniel Carlton, costume designer Jermaine Terry, technical director Michael Jarrett, and composer Munir Zakee. Nine black male dancers with culturally-diverse backgrounds will complete the cast. PE will be developed over three phases (community workshops September-December 2020, choreographic process January-May 2021, production June 2021) culminating with four performances in July 2021.

The creative team will work with fifteen black men ages 15-35 who have been impacted by incarceration in a sixteen-week social practice process. PE’s collaborators avoid presuming to understand the totality of black male daily life and thus aim to learn if black men live in preparation for the possibility of containment or entrapment and how that affects their bodies. During this process, D. Carlton and Iquail will facilitate generative sessions in Philadelphia, specific to experiences these men had while incarcerated. Workshops will engage the catalogue of Hip-Hop group Public Enemy and themes that emerge from songs such as, 911 is a Joke, Don’t Believe The Hype, and Fight the Power. After acting-out, dancing to and retelling their experiences through journaling, audio/visual recordings of these workshops will be compiled into a vast archive and used by the creative team as source material. By navigating through this “experiential archive” and storyboarding, the creative team will pay thoughtful attention to the embodied attitudes and movements to drive their artistic decisions.

The subsequent choreographic process, a rigorous physical investigation of policing, incarceration, and racialized violence, will follow this deep community work. Structured improvisations situated in the embodied responses collected in PE’s experiential archive will guide a major part of the process. Collaborators Carlton, Jarrett, Terry, and Zakee will be active agents in this choreographic process. They will pose questions connecting storyboarding sessions surrounding PE’s experiential archive to create movement, musical and textual vocabularies. Cobb and the participating returned citizens will offer critical feedback to shape how PE is physically representing their experiences.

PE’s final presentation will be a site-specific participatory experience of black male death in real-time (policing, jailed, wrongful death, collective mourning). PE addresses gaps in our social consciousness where we are unable to name black men who have been lost, like Dennis Plowden Jr., who was shot in the head by Philadelphia police as he sat unarmed on a curb overlooked by the city’s skyline at sunset. Audience members will tweet epitaphs, dancers will perform the affective experiences, together we will witness, sort out, embody, and reconfigure what happens upon revisiting these all too public rituals.

Iquail’s artistic process more broadly begins with subject material that affects him deeply. Using an autobiographical approach, Iquail candidly addresses real life situations; the incarcerations of his father and three maternal uncles, including one currently serving a life sentence for murder. Iquail is emphatically clear that connecting his own life with PE’s returned citizens will build and showcase the grossly underrepresented love black men have for each other.

Check out a snippet of one of the team’s post-interview reflection sessions: