La Femme Dance Festival Celebrates Black Women Choreographers

Red Clay Dance Festival will host its fifth La Femme Dance Festival March
14-16. PHOTO BY MREID PHOTOGRAPHY
Red Clay Dance Festival will host its fifth La Femme Dance Festival March 14-16. PHOTO BY MREID PHOTOGRAPHY

 La Femme Dance Festival Celebrates Black Women Choreographers

By Tia Carol Jones

As a Black woman, Vershawn Sanders-Ward wanted to create a dance festival that celebrated the voices of Black women and brought their work to Chicago stages. Sanders-Ward, Founder and Artistic Director of Red Clay Dance Company, created La Femme Dance Festival for that reason.

Red Clay Dance Company is gearing up for its fifth La Femme Dance Festival. The biennial dance festival will take place from Thursday to Saturday, March 14th through 16th.


This year’s La Femme Dance Festival is the first one since COVID-19. The three-day event opens Thursday with an opening reception. Sanders-Ward will be in conversation with legendary choreographer Fatima Robinson. Robinson has choreographed “The Color Purple,” Beyonce’s Renaissance Tour and other movies, music videos and commercials.


On Friday, March 15th, Robinson will facilitate a dance class at Red Clay Dance Company’s studio, which is located at 808 E. 63rd St. There will also be a session where dancers can ask Robinson questions. On Saturday, March 16th, a performance will take place at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, which is located at 205 E. Randolph. The performance will feature two new works from Red Clay Dance, one choreographed by Sanders-Ward and another by Michelle N. Gibson, a choreographer based in Dallas. Another piece will be Portraits in Red by Wanjiru Kamuyu.


Because this year’s event is during an anniversary season, Sanders-Ward curated the festival. In previous years, choreographers applied to have their worked performed in the festival. Because she loves Robinson’s work, Sanders-Ward wanted to find a way to involve her in the festival.


“La Femme was created as a platform to uplift choreographed work by Black women. There are not a lot of opportunities for our work to be visible in the field,” she said. “I’m excited for Chicago to be able to witness the genius of these women and to get a better understanding of our stories and what we have to say.”


Sanders-Ward believes in having Black women represented in dance because historically, Black women are the ones that are creating, leading and pushing the culture forward, and the aesthetics are taken, borrowed or platformed through bodies or choreographers that are not Black. She added, the aesthetics and the value that Black women bring to the artform are unmatched.
“We have very strong choreographic acumen and make work that is appealing to mass audiences. Our work is appealing to all,” she said.


Sanders-Ward wanted to make sure that while she was looking for ways to expand the reach of her work, she brought others in the field along on the journey with her. Her hope is that future choreographers will have opportunities and will continue to find spaces that amplify and understand their voices in a way that is valued. She acknowledged the aesthetic that Black women have created in their approach to dance have been taken and replicated, but don’t value the actual creator or don’t get the credit for the work they put in.


Sanders-Ward is excited for the event, which closes out the dance companies’ celebration of its 15th Anniversary season. She is encouraging people to come out and experience these events.


“We’re excited about bringing these artists to Chicago. I love this city and I think this is a place where some of the best artists are cultivated and grown. I’m excited for any opportunity to put Chicago artists on the same stage as artists from other cities and countries,” she said.


For more information on the Red Clay Dance Company, visit redclaydance.com.

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