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The Revolution Will Be Choreographed

The Revolution Will Be Choreographed

Providence-based dance company Haus of Glitter speaks at RISD about using an activist dance opera to transform a racist national historic site.

The Historical Fantasy of Esek Hopkins

Artists-in-residence Haus of Glitter stage The Historical Fantasy of Esek Hopkins at the national historic site where they have been living since 2020. 

Members of local queer- and BIPOC-affirming dance company Haus of Glitter didn’t know exactly what to expect when they began their artist residency in the city-owned Esek Hopkins Homestead in early 2020. Hopkins is described as the “first commander in chief of the American navy” on the plaque that identifies the site, but he was also a notoriously cruel transatlantic slave trader and captain of the infamous ship Sally.

“Resting my Black body in the former home of a documented colonizer was not easy.”

Dancer Anthony A.M. Andrade, Jr.

“We learned about the history of the house after we got there,” says Haus of Glitter member Anthony A.M. Andrade, Jr. “Resting my Black body in the former home of a documented colonizer was not easy.”

Haus at RISD
RISD alum and faculty member Jess Brown MID 09 (at left) welcomes the Haus of Glitter to RISD’s Metcalf Auditorium.

The Haus discussed the experience and their ingenious response to it—an activist dance opera called The Historical Fantasy of Esek Hopkins—at an early May event cohosted by RISD’s Center for Social Equity and Inclusion and the Theory and History of Art and Design department and emceed by Assistant Professor of Industrial Design Jess Brown MID 09. Brown describes the project as “a ritualistic historic intervention” and notes that her experience participating in Haus-led performances and political demonstrations has transformed her teaching practice.

Coulibaly in performance

The piece in question was inspired by an unnamed woman who was captured by Hopkins’ crew and then hanged herself during the voyage from western Africa to Rhode Island, making her one of 109 enslaved people out of 196 who died during that crossing. But as Haus Codirector Matthew Garza explains, the collective’s goal was to put numbers and statistics aside and empathize with one individual.

photo of performance piece scene under tree

Choreographer Assitan Coulibaly adds that the memory of that woman—who was only identified as an individual because she took her own life—eclipses Hopkins’ memory. “We felt that our ancestors have been forgotten,” she explains. “There are so many more people at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean whose stories are not being told. This piece is an attempt to bring justice to their legacy.”

“There are so many more people at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean whose stories are not being told.” 

Choreographer Assitan Coulibaly

The Historical Fantasy of Esek Hopkins shares the stories, cultures and choreography of the Haus of Glitter’s Black, Indigenous, Latinx and Laotian ancestors and “imagines what life would be like today if colonization and slavery had never happened by telling the story of a single Black person lost on the voyage.”

Matthew Garza in performance

Anthony Andrade in performance
Haus of Glitter Codirector Matthew Garza (top photo) and dancers Steven Choummalaithong and Trent Lee (bottom photo) are healing themselves through dance.

In addition to amplifying the voices and ancestral histories of BIPOC people, Haus focuses on elevating queer, trans and femme creatives. In Garza’s words, “we’re building a worldwide mermaid army, creating the empire we want to live in.” The collective welcomes the community into their space for meditation, yoga and Afro-Latinx dance workshops and encourages neighbors to work in the Liberation Garden they planted when they first moved in.

“We use movement and choreography to shift the energetic center of the universe towards queer feminist BIPOC liberation.”

“We use movement and choreography to shift the energetic center of the universe towards queer feminist BIPOC liberation,” Haus of Glitter’s website proclaims. “In the work we share and co-create with audiences, we strive to embody ancestral liberation, healing and love in every step and every breath of our creative process and pedagogy. We are choreographing for justice.” 
 
Simone Solondz / photos by Erin Smithers, Stephanie Alvarez-Ewens and James Lastowski

Watch the recorded talkback session online.

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