MDC Live Arts Challenges PerceptionsChoreographer Nora Chipaumire’s "Portrait of Myself as My Father"

Nora Chipaumire
Bessie Award-winning dancer/choreographer and former Urban Bush Women star Nora Chipaumire.
Photo credit: Elise Fitte-Duval

MDC Live Arts is a performance series that brings an eclectic mix of top-level national and international performing artists to Miami. The series presents some of the most exciting artists working today with the intention of creating meaningful engagement between these artists, their work, MDC students and the greater Miami community. Typically, MDC Live Arts seeks out artists from around the globe who both push boundaries and honor traditions that resonate with Miami’s local population.

That programming mission is currently being fulfilled with an upcoming performance that takes place within the confines of a boxing ring. Into this patriarchal arena, “baptized” by the ancestral blood and sweat of men, steps an unlikely but powerful new force, Bessie Award-winning dancer/choreographer and former Urban Bush Women star Nora Chipaumire. Continuing her examination of race and gender in a profound and highly personal work entitled Portrait of Myself as My Father, Chipaumire has crafted a celebration and critique of masculinity.

“What she always does is challenge perceptions.”

“We’ve developed a significant relationship with Nora over the past five years,” said MDC Live Arts Executive Director, Kathryn Garcia. “She’s performed and led professional training for local artists on various occasions. What she always does is challenge perceptions. With this piece she’s really digging into perceptions of black males. It’s a particularly timely subject, given our current political climate and the ongoing conversation about black males, incarceration and police violence. MDC Live Arts invite artists to tackle difficult issues and engage with the community through art. Each season of our series aims to examine relevant topics, offering a different door into an issue — something other than the sound bites we’re used to hearing from newscasts.”

“This work grew out of my own curiosity about who my father was,” said Chipaumire. “When I discovered I had siblings I didn’t know I had, I started asking questions about the father I had never known. Until then, I hadn’t been particularly curious about him. But I soon discovered that ‘my father’ was a real thing.”

As a way of exploring and better understanding the “work-in-progress” that she is, the provocative work considers her father and more broadly, the African male, through the lens of colonialism. Tethered together in a boxing ring, Chipaumire and Senegalese dancer Pape Ibrahima Ndiaye (known as Kaolak) dance, struggle, and fight against prejudices, pressures, and the weight of traditions and history.”

The New York Times describes the work as “A no-holds-barred look at masculinity in African culture and the African male body.”

“Life is a fight for the average black person – a series of unfolding rounds which are perhaps hard to call this way or that.”

While black and white men may at their core share a similar sense of masculinity, Chipaumire contends that when it comes to its expression, masculinity is very different for black men.  “All men want to be at the head and that has much to do with class and power but, very broadly speaking, white men have not had to deal with their physicality to the same degree as black men have. From Africa to slavery and beyond, the survival of the black man seems to have been married to physical stamina at a level that it hasn’t been for white men.”

Asked about the boxing conceit, Chipaumire responds, “Life is a fight for the average black person – a series of unfolding rounds which are perhaps hard to call this way or that. The idea that you can duke it out as you figure it out is empowering. Boxing is a dance, but it’s not Swan Lake, and you know that going into it, which permits you to allow both the violence and the beauty inherent in the art form.”

Rounding out the cast as the coach, is Jamaican-born MDC alum, Shamar Watt, who met Chipaumire some years back when she was teaching a workshop at MDC.

The performance is part of the MDC Live Arts’ On Site series. Next up: Traffic Jam—a transit-considering, community-engaging, vehicular orchestra in a parking lot in downtown Miami, during Art Basel.

In addition to the performances, the artist will be conducting a community wide master class on Saturday, October 15, and an MDC Live Arts Lab Chat on Tuesday, October 11.

Performance Details:
Portrait of Myself as My Father
8 p. m., Friday, Oct. 14, Saturday, Oct. 15
Miami Light Project
404 NW 26th Street, Wynwood
Miami, FL 33127

Buy Tickets:
Student discount code: MDCSTU, must show ID at door.
Faculty and staff discount code: MDCFAC

Community Master Class Details:
A Dance Master Class with Nora Chipaumire
11:30 a. m., Saturday, October 15
The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse
404 NW 26th Street, Wynwood
Miami, FL 33127

MDC Live Arts Lab Chat
A Talk With Nora Chipaumire
7:00 p. m. Tuesday, October 11
Live Arts Lab, Wolfson Campus

Visit Lab Chat