Sabela Grimes

Hip-hop choreographer D. Sabela Grimes

Photo: Shizuka Takemura

He’s been called “the Los Angeles dance world’s best-kept secret” — and he’s bringing his style of hip-hop choreography to Milwaukee in a composition inspired by the 2016 Sherman Park uprising.

D. Sabela Grimes — an assistant professor of practice at the University of Southern California’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance and a 2014 Rockefeller Fellow — will be the guest artist for 2018 Winterdances: Transit at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts.

Performances of Grimes’ Bubbling Utterance will join the works of three local choreographers Feb. 1–4 at Kenilworth Square East in Milwaukee. Other compositions include works by UWM dance faculty members Daniel Burkholder, Maria Gillespie and department chair Simone Ferro, whose own performance work is based on what happened at Sherman Park.

Grimes describes his work as “an improvisational movement meditation” and “a freestyle crowded with intent.” Regarding the subject matter, the choreographer says his composition is designed “to bear witness to injustice sincerely with integrity.”

“D. Sabela is an iconoclast who successfully bridges the gap between what is seen on the stage and what is thought in the viewer’s mind,” says Ferro. “He is not afraid to blur the lines and ask tough questions about race, social justice, inclusiveness and the vulnerability of the human condition. His work evokes the microcosms of experience you encounter when step outside your door.”

Grimes recently discussed his art and the philosophy behind it with WiG.

WiG: Let’s take a deep dive right from the start. Tell me, what is dance at its core?

D. Sabela Grimes: Dance is kinetic contemplation. Movement meditation. Meaning making. Experiencing knowledge of self. Communing and communicating. Circling the center of now. Spiraling through fearful courage, changeable resolution, the motion of stillness, flamboyant waves of quiet. Dance is Black beingness, the presence of ancestors and the unborn rippling through bodies.

Your approach to hip-hop dance includes the use of “funkamentals.” Please tell us about that.

Funkamental MediKinetics is a codified movement system I created to primarily celebrate the present histories, traditions and spiritual elements of African-American/Afro-diasporic social dance. I am fascinated by the different ways systems of corporeal intelligence are organized and transmitted in/through Black vernacular social dance practices.

Funkamental MediKinetics purposefully seeks to engage the physical and meta-physical efficacy of Black dance practices through specific methods of correspondence, community building, encouraging the discipline of play, collaborative exchange and what I call whole-body listening.

Dancers that train in this system develop a keen awareness of how there is exponentially more to dance than making and moving through shapes with their bodies. Dancers discover how the immaterial, invisible elements of Black dance practices cultivate a deeper inner-standing of how the art and action of dance produces a greater sense of self through personal and communal insights and holistic development.

Funkamental MediKinetics epitomizes the balance between raising one’s spirit while dropping it like it’s hot.

Is there a specific “playbook” of movements for hip-hop dance?

Black dance, at it’s heart, is communal, and the evidence of collective corporeal intelligence. Hip-hop observes time in the most sacred and deep ways. Some dances are temporary. Yet, when they’re “in” they explode with the fullness of life that dancers pull from and pour into it.

Some dances develop and expand into styles or forms like Breaking, Locking or Popping, stretch across generations and carry a bit of the trendy/temporary dances, dances that seem to come and go, in their DNA.

Although “hip-hop” dance is said to have been born in the 1970s, it is important to acknowledge that it is a part of the continuum of Black/Afro-diasporic social dance practices that precede the era.

Tell us about Bubbling Utterances.

It came into being through a one-word movement meditation that I did with the dancers. The dance is hip-hop in that its content was developed through improvisation and freestyling, focusing on knowledge of self, “building” a cypher and activating specific ideas of musicality.

Nonetheless, the dance isn’t representational, primarily because most of the dancers do not have previous hip-hop training. The approach draws from hip-hop and dancers are encouraged to express themselves via their respective dance languages.

The dance reflects the 2016 Sherman Park riots. How did you become aware of the event?

Well, the word was on the streets. That’s how I heard about the Sherman Park uprising. Plus, my choreographic residency at UWM began approximately a year after the uprising. Things were and are still bubbling.

Memorializing an event like Sherman Park in dance is an intentional way of saying, “I see you!” “I hear you!” “I feel you!” But, I am not memorializing an event.

Bubbling Utterance isn’t overtly political. I am using the power of dance to speak freedom into existence. It’s not about a moment in time. It’s about holding space, raising awareness, thinking critically about systems that produce these moments.

It’s about practicing empathy for folks that are still affected by “the event” and whose lives have been altered. It’s about exploring ways, through dance, to simply say, “I care about you.”

On stage

D. Sabela Grimes’ Bubbling Utterance is part of UWM Peck School of the Arts 2018 Winterdances: Transit. Performances are Feb. 1–4 at the Jan Serr Studio at Kenilworth Square East (sixth floor), 1925 E. Kenilworth Place, Milwaukee. Tickets are $10–$20 and can be purchased at the Peck School box office, 2419 E. Kenwood Blvd., by dialing 414-229-4308 or visiting .

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