Dani Tirrell’s Black Bois, which premiered in April 2018 at On the Boards, returns this year on Valentine’s Day at the Moore Theatre. It’s a multi-genre love letter to Black community, healing, and joy.
The last time the dozen-plus artists of Black Bois — the many-genre showcase created by choreographer-dancer-curator Dani Tirrell — took stage, they sold out the four-day run at On the Boards well in advance of the opening show.
This time, they head to the Moore Theatre — a mainstage stop primarily for national touring acts, with six times the capacity of On the Boards’s largest house — for a Valentine’s Day show. The result? It’s sold out, again.
What makes the show so magnetic? Among other things, three general factors stand out: artistic concept, depth and breadth of communities, and the many-talented artists themselves.
Black Bois transports both artists and viewers to another world, one which centers Black bodies and Black expressions, Black achievements and Black resilience, Black love and Black joy. In other words, the same things always present here in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A., but less often centered and celebrated.
The show is unique in its large cast and disparate art forms, which nonetheless come together in one cohesive love letter. As Tirrell describes it:
“This dance piece, created with original music by Benjamin Hunter and written word by J Mase III, is a ceremony to our ancestors, and thanksgiving to our past, present, and future. It is a love letter to our bodies, our spirits, and our minds. This is the story of our fathers, brothers, lovers, and friends. A healing space, a space to process, a space to love, a space to create and be. We welcome you!”
The artists of Black Bois are well-known in countless circles, whether around art form (modern dance, ballet, violin, poetry, fashion design, mural) or identity (Black, queer, trans, religious). And they’re community builders, too. Among them: Benjamin Hunter founded the Hillman City Collaboratory and the Black & Tan Hall, both on Rainier; Markeith Wiley helms Studio Current and hosts community parties and discussions around town; J Mase III connects queer and Muslim communities; David Rue engages audiences and public programs at Seattle Art Museum; and not the least, Tirrell, who teaches at UW and Northwest Tap Connection, and curates showcases and programs at the Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas, housed in the historic Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute.
With the CD Forum, Tirrell also hosts a Sunday Dinner series, which brings in acclaimed Black artists to talk about their life and work. These aren’t your average talkbacks. Tirrell’s questions pierce the surface-level of a standard interview; center Blackness; and get at the heart of artistry, successes and failures, backgrounds and futures. All of that happens while the audience-guests dig into both the words and a meal prepared by a local Black chef.
The cast of Black Bois will star in the next Sunday Dinner — special Saturday edition — this weekend. Find info and tickets here.
The artists are all Black, all skilled, and all local. Beyond that, they run the gamut, representing a diversity of artistic forms and backgrounds.
Bios provided by Seattle Theatre Group.
Dani Tirrell (Seattle, WA) is a Black, Queer choreographer, dancer and movement guide. Dani has guided people in Detroit and Seattle as well as sharing movement practices in other cities in the United States. Currently Dani is the curator for the 2019/2020 season of Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas, this is Dani’s second season as curator. Dani is the host and co-creator of Sunday Dinners. Dani is the founder and current artistic director of The Congregation a movement/art group. Dani is currently teaching at Northwest Tap Connection and University of Washington Seattle campus and Bothell campus (fall 2019). Dani has created work for STG’s DANCE This (Northwest Tap Connection), Strictly Seattle (advance/professional track), Seattle Repertory Theater, Nina Simone Four Women (Directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton). In August of 2019, Dani received Seattle’s Mayor’s Arts Award. Dani is the Artist in Residence at Velocity Dance Center (2020/2021) and one of 6 Artists in Residence at On the Boards (Seattle, WA) Dani also was at the helm of four sold out shows, for Dani’s production of Black Bois (On the Boards). In 2019 Dani was the recipient of an Artist Trust Fellowship Award and a Dance Crush Award for Black Bois (performance). Dani also received a 2018 Arts Matter Fellowship grant. Dani current work FagGod in collaboration with Anastasia Renee and Naa Akua was presented in Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas 2019/2020 season.
Benjamin Hunter is a musician, composer, educator, and community entrepreneur. His work focuses on the intersections of music, culture, and community engagement. Primarily a violinist, he also plays mandolin, guitar, percussion, and sings. He plays in an internationally touring American Roots duo with Joe Seamons, winning the International Blues Competition in 2016. Ben plays a variety of styles of music, with particular interest in world folk music. Ben is the founder of a small arts and community organization, Community Arts Create; the co-founder of social justice incubator, The Hillman City Collaboratory; and co-founder of the soon-to-be opened performance hall and restaurant, Black & Tan Hall.
Brian J. Evans is a Citizen Artist of mixed disciplines, mixed professions, and mixed race, Brian J. Evans unpacks the “moments of suspension” that reside in the spaces between spaces. Convinced that connections exist between us all and it is the responsibility of the Arts to remind us to be holistically human, lest we forget. He is currently finishing his final year of the Dance MFA Graduate program at the University of Washington (UW) Seattle Campus and was awarded the Howard P. Dallas Endowed Fellowship for his service on the UW dance department’s newly founded diversity community and serves as a liaison on the Divisional Arts Diversity Committee. www.brianjevans.org
Cipher Goings is an accomplished dancer and aspiring actor. He has been dancing since the age of 7 at Northwest Tap Connection Dance Studio and has performed in STG’s DANCE This. He has been trained in Ballet, Hip Hop, Modern, and Rhythm Tap. Cipher has performed professionally since the age of ten, first as a member of the New Horizon’s Modern and Tap Company and then with the Youth Tap Ensemble beginning at the age of 12. He has received addition training and performance opportunities at the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, DC Tap Festival, and the Floripa Tap Festival in Brazil. Cipher has taken master classes from many talented, notable dancers such as Lane Alexander, Chloe Arnold, Maud Arnold, Sonia Dawkins, Michelle Dorrance, Derrick Grant, Gene Medler, Nico Rubio, Matthew Rushing, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Jumaane Taylor, Dianne Walker and many more.
David Rue is a dance artist and creative professional born in Liberia, and raised in Minnesota. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a bachelor of individualized studies that combined Journalism, English, and Dance. From 2011–2015, he performed with TU Dance (directed by Toni Pierce- Sands and Uri Sands) in St. Paul, MN where he danced the works of Dwight Rhoden, Camille A. Brown, Greg Dolbashian, Katrin Hall, and Uri Sands. David has worked with Seattle based choreographers Dani Tirrell, Zoe Scofield, and Ella Mahler. He holds an MFA in Arts Leadership from Seattle University and works as the Public Engagement Associate at Seattle Art Museum.
Gilbert Small is a Seattle based dancer, creator and facilitator of movement. From Baltimore, MD, he started his formal movement training at the age of 10 at the Baltimore School for the Arts. Upon graduating from BSFA, Gilbert was accepted into the Conservatory of Dance at Purchase College in New York. While attending Purchase, he was selected to study abroad at Codarts in Rotterdam, NL. Gilbert has performed with companies in Canada and the United States. Recently finishing 10 season with Ballet BC of Vancouver, BC, he has relocated to Seattle. He has been a collaborator with zoe | juniper since 2017 and is thankful to be a part of this Black Bois experience
J Mase III is a Black/trans/queer poet & educator based in Seattle by way of Philly. Mase has worked with community members in the US, UK, and Canada on the needs of LGBTQIA youth in spaces such as K-12 schools, universities, faith communities and restricted care facilities. He is founder of awQward, the first trans and queer people of color talent agency. Currently, he is co-editing the #BlackTransPrayerBook alongside artist/Priestess Dane Figueroa Edidi. His work has been featured on MSNBC, Essence Live, Everyday Feminism, Black Girl Dangerous, the New York Times, Buzzfeed, the Root, the Huffington Post and more. Find him on Instagram (@jmaseiii) and www.jmaseiii.com.
Kyle Bernbach (he/they) is an evolving artist, dancer, and therapist who is invested in creating engaging works that define and deconstruct the urgent topics of our time through movement and healing. Previous credits include: Black Bois at OTB, Memphis the Musical (B’way/1st Nat’l Tour), The 5th Ave Theatre, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, The Victoria Secret Fashion Show, Xodus Dance Collective, and various musical artists’ World Tours. Therapeutic Practice: www.returntherapy.com
marco farroni, dominican dance artist currently based in seattle, wa. received bfa from the university of the arts under the direction of donna faye burchedfield, has worked with donald byrd, mark haim, douglas becker, tommie waheed evans, mark caserta, ron k. brown, sidra bell, katie swords, jesse zarrit amongst others. participated in alonzo king lines ballet summer intensive, American dance festival and earl mosley institute of the arts. i am interested in my body and the histories that it carries, i am interested in love, i am interested in memory, i am interested in creating spaces that remind me of home. marcofarroni.com
Markeith Wiley California native Markeith Wiley is a multi-dimensional art maker, who creates out of necessity. His vast movement vocabulary spans a lifetime of influences. As of late this anit- social extrovert dabbles in dance, sound, theater, a combo of all three or non of the above. Wiley has been an arts educator in Seattle for a while now. When they are not in the studio you can find Markeith at Rainier Dance Center in Rainier Beach or on Capitol Hill as a managing artist director at Studio Current or choreographing with both Seattle Children’s Theater & 5th Avenue Theater. Markeith holds a BFA in Dance from Cornish College of the Arts and has performed or collaborated with Keith Henessesy, Kitten ‘n Lou, The Dance Cartel, Lingo, The Grief Girls, Mother Tongue, Erik Blood, Forward Flux, Natasha Marin, Tyisha Nedd and many more. In the evenings Wiley hosts a DJ event at Vermillion gallery & bar with fellow music enthusiast Alice Gosti & has started a monthly performance party at Studio Current called SC Sessions. Wiley was a member of the 2014 City Arts Future List & also graced the cover of the magazine as well. They are not big on congratulations after performing, so instead of saying “Good Job!” Just look him in the eyes & smile.
Michael O’Neal Jr. (Majinn) is a queer mixed race African American dance artist and educator who utilizes his training in both street and classical dance styles to find and express his whole self. Majinn believes that to be the best dancer and person he can be he should be versatile and push his own comfort zone. Through dance he has grown to become an educator who loves to see growth in his students, people and himself. Through dance Majinn aims to help people become more confident in their bodies, express themselves and be confident speaking their voice rather than just become better dancers on and off of the dance floor. Two of Majinn’s biggest goals in dance are to spread the histories of street/club styles dance in and out of university so that the cultures are learned and more respected in the art world. As well as to give back to the communities that these art forms were created and to provide a safer space for people of the communities to learn how to be more in touch with themselves and their bodies through dance. Majinn is Co-Director and choreographer of Lil Brown Girls Club (Lil BGC) a mentorship program for young womxn of color through What’s Poppin Ladiez?!He’s performed in STG’s DANCE This. You can find Majinn under the moniker Majinn_Mike on Instagram and Majinnmike on Youtube.
Mychael Hodges II is a Seattle native that has been dancing since the age of 2. Mychael continues his training in Rhythm Tap, Hip Hop, Modern and House with Northwest Tap Connection (since the age of 5) and ABK/Kuttnup Entertainment (since the age of 8). In the summer of 2017 Mycheal played The Scarecrow in Langston Hughes Teen Summer Musical’s production of The Wiz. Mychael is currently teaching Hip Hop with DASS Dance while also running track with Garfield High school.
Randy Ford, is a Seattle-born dancer, choreographer, actor, activist, and dance educator. She has been featured in Velocity Dance Center’s Next Fest NW, CD Forum’s Showing Out: Contemporary Black Choreographers (2016, 2018), Bumbershoot Festival, Legendary Children at Seattle Art Museum, Dani Tirrell’s Black Bois, BenDeLaCreme’s Beware The Terror of Gaylord Manor, and Kitten N’ Lou’s CAMPTACULAR and Jingle All The Gay. She is a member of Seattle’s Au Collective, a dance organization committed to putting queer people, trans people, womxn, and people of color at the forefront of everything it does. She created and co-produced her first full-length evening show QUEEN STREET at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute with CD Forum in September of 2019. You can check out what she’s up to at her website therandyford.com.
Robert Moore, from Hamden, CT, began dancing at New England Ballet and continued at Dee Dee’s Dance Center and New Haven Ballet. He is an alumnus of Earl Mosley’s Institute of the Arts, the Ailey Summer Intensive, Cunningham Trust Workshop, Jacob’s Pillow’s Commercial Dance Program, and the Complexions Intensive. He went to Mexico with JUNTOS Collective, and taught with Notes in Motion, Arthur Aviles Typical Theatre, and JD/dansfolk. Robert graduated magna cum laude from the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program and has danced with Amanda Selwyn Dance Theatre, The Steps Repertory Ensemble, AATMA Performing Arts, Whidbey Island Dance Theatre, Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center, Karin Stevens Dance, the Guild Dance Company, Kinesis Project Dance Theater, The Gray, PRICEArts, Coriolis Dance, Khambatta Dance Company, and Spectrum Dance Theater.
Saulyman Corr (pronounced Sue-lay-mon) is a self-taught hip-hop dancer, born and raised in the Seattle area. He recently graduated from the University of Washington, where he majored in environmental studies (and dance). After graduating he currently is focused on working in education, and applying to graduate school. Meanwhile, he is still engaged in the hip-hop community through small performances and battles.
Stefan Richmond is a Colorado native, movement-based actor, and performance artist. After graduating from the University of Northern Colorado with a B.A. in Theatre Arts and Dance, he made his way to the PNW through the Intiman Emerging Artist Program in 2016. As a creative collaborator and storyteller, he believes in the power of storytelling, and its ability to heal. His work seeks to examine and explore the intersections of stories and emotions related to physical space, natural movement within the body, and language/text. His other recent Seattle credits include Time to Tell (Shawn Johnson), New Shoes Educational Tour (Book-It), Pylon III (Tectonic Marrow Society), The Earth Shakes (Heron Ensemble), Carry We Openly (Amador/Stokes) and The House of Dinah (Andrew Russell/Dani Tirrell). Stefan is a core member of the Heron Ensemble and you can see him this upcoming April in Raisins in a Glass of Milk and Salvage Rituals, a community-based performance at On the Boards in premiering December 2020.
Black Bois performs 2/14 at the Moore Theatre in Downtown Seattle. Tickets are currently sold out; info here. Accessibility notes: restrooms are gendered and multi-stall; there is one single-stall, gender-neutral restroom on the balcony level. Theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible.
Sunday Dinner: Cast of Black Bois is held 2/15 (afternoon) at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, in the Central District. Tickets are $20 ($22 with fees) advance, $35 at the door, available here. Accessibility notes: restrooms are gendered and multi-stall; gender-neutral, single-stall restrooms available upstairs; theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.