Raissa Simpson’s PUSH Dance Company Builds Vibrant Contemporary Dances To Gain A Deeper Understanding Of The Challenges Attributed To Mixed Heritage.

The Motley Experiment Press Release

PUSH Dance Company and Bayview Opera House present the world premiere of The Motley Experiment by Raissa Simpson March 27-29 at Bayview Opera House in San Francisco. The evening-length, multimedia dance work inspired by Jazz-age Modernist and Harlem Renaissance figure Archibald Motley features original music composed and performed live by Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids. Pictured: Niara Hardister in Codelining, Photo by Matt Haber





San Francisco, CA, January 30, 2020 – Award-winning choreographer, performance innovator and cultural worker Raissa Simpson and PUSH Dance Company partner with the Bayview Opera House to present the world premiere of The Motley Experiment , Simpson’s evening-length, multi-media exploration of Jazz Age painter Archibald Motley, March 27-29 at Bayview Opera House. Featuring 14 dancers, an original score created and performed live by Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids and a digital landscape created by Raissa Simpson, performances will be given Friday, March 27, at 7:30 pm and Saturday and Sunday, March 28-29 at 2:00pm. Tickets are priced $20 general admission, $15 community level (students, seniors, purchased through a performer), $30 dance lover, $40 theatre lover, $50 supporter. Tickets can be purchased online at https://tinyurl.com/MotleyEx

For the premiere, Simpson draws on five different paintings, including Motley’s 1925 The Octoroon Girl, which depict multi-racial figures of African descent. For Simpson and African American mixed-heritage women, Archibald Motley’s works represent an early portrayal of racialized identities encapsulated into positive portraits of Black lives. Simpson observes that, “His own life and his struggle with multiracial identity are aptly found in his work when he paints the ‘Old Negro’ tropes. Walking through the Los Angeles County Museum of Art recently, I was mesmerized not only by Archibald’s depictions of Black people, but also by his nightlife jazz scenes saturated with Majorelle blues. I had never seen dark-toned skins painted with such dignity through blues, reds and purples. His struggle with 20th century racial codes and multiracial identity are aptly found in his work.”

The stage area will be at the center of the space and audiences will surround the performers, creating a feeling of intimate observation and inclusion in the action. Digital projections from above will bathe the performers and parts of the audience in abstracted images from media art, saturated in emotional hues/colors, light and meaning. Straight from the traditions of juke joints and The Cotton Club, the musicians reside above on the mainstage looking over the sacredness of dancers and audience in the ballroom. In the juxtaposition of the two spaces, audiences are welcome stand, sit or to change their vantage point throughout the performance.


Archibald Motley (1891-1981) is considered an important contributor to the Harlem Renaissance of the early 20th century and to the Chicago Black Renaissance in the city where he was raised and where he was professionally trained at the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago. His biographer, Ann M. Moody, asserts that his focus on the multi-dimensionality of Blackness as “a means of affirming racial respect and race pride.” Motley was “among the few artists of the 1920s who consistently depicted African Americans in a positive manner,” according to Floyd Coleman in American Heritage Magazine. For example, in The Octoroon Girl, the painting that inspired Raissa Simpson to create The Motley Experiment, Motley frankly depicts the realities of contemporary middle-class African Americans. It compels the viewer to look beyond negative stereotypes and to recognize the deep and sophisticated origins of modernism rooted in a mix of races and cultures.

“As an institution dedicated to supporting artists of color in San Francisco, we at the Bayview Opera House couldn’t be more proud and excited to share Raissa Simpson’s The Motley Experiment with the world,” says Allegra Madsen, BVOH Executive Director. “This production, resulting from the Spring Artist in Residency Program at The Opera House, represents a partnership between an artist, a supporting institution and the community. Successful partnerships of this kind are the only way to achieve the right piece, for the right time in the right place, in other words, the only way to achieve The Motley Experiment.” 

About The Bayview Opera House
The Bayview Opera House nurtures, educates and inspires the next generation of black and brown artists. We offer opportunities for artists of color to produce and display work, we create spaces for artists to experiment, collaborate, and learn from one another. Additionally, our investment in our community grows new and informed audiences that value excellence and ambition.

The Bayview Opera House, the oldest operating theater in San Francisco sits in the heart of Bayview Hunters Point at the corner of 3rd and Newcomb. Established in 1888, The Opera House is the cultural hub of Bayview, San Francisco’s African American Arts and Cultural District. The year-round programming at The Opera House honors the belief that art is an essential part of a vibrant, just, and healthy society. From community festivals +celebrations to contemporary dance and performance, art shows and youth programs the Opera House cultivates an environment dedicated to creative excellence and ambition with the knowledge that increasing access to art will inspire, educate, and transform lives.

About PUSH Dance Company

Emotional and kinetic, Raissa Simpson’s PUSH Dance Company (founded in 2005) has performed to critical acclaim while building upon the philosophy that pure movement and intellect can coexist with a commitment to outreach and dance education.

Hailed by Dance Spirit Magazine as “reflective contemporary choreography,” Simpson’s work has been performed in more than 50 venues across the country, including Dance St. Louis Spring to Dance Emerson Festival, Links Hall in Chicago, Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech, Joyce SoHo, Washington Ensemble Theater, Evolve Dance Festival in NY, Los Angeles Theater Center, Black Choreographers Festival, UC Davis, Sacramento State, Stanford University, SF State University, Santa Clara University, ODC Theater, Museum of the African Diaspora, Renberg Theater, Dance Initiative Carbondale and Aspen Fringe Festival.   

Simpson has been honored with the Magrit Mondavi Award, ChoreoProject’s People’s Choice Award, BADw’s Choreographer of the Year 2012, and the African American Theater Alliance for Independence (AATAIN). She has held residencies at the Bayview Opera House, Garage Artspace, Zaccho Studio, African American Art & Culture Complex, and Margaret Jenkins Dance Company’s CHIME. 

PUSH and Raissa Simpson have received support from  the California Arts Council, San Francisco Arts Commission, Grants for the Arts, Zellerbach Family Foundation,  CA$H, Dancers’ Group Lighting in Dance Award, SF Foundation, ODC Theater’s Fleishhacker Opportunity Fund, The Kenneth Rainin Foundation, Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation and generous individual donors.

About Idris Ackamoor

Idris Ackamoor is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, actor, tap dancer, producer, administrator, and director. He is the Founder of the San Francisco performance company Cultural Odyssey and the Founder, Artistic Director of the legendary jazz and world music ensemble Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids is just returning from a summer and fall 2019 tour performing throughout Europe including shows in the Czech Republic, Sweden, Turkey, Belgium, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, and many other locations. He also recorded a brand new album while in London for STRUT Records entitled, SHAMAN! which will be released as a double vinyl album in June 2020. Compositions from the album will be featured in the PUSH 2020 Spring Season production co-presented by Bayview Opera House. 

Ackamoor has performed and collaborated with tenor Saxophonists Chico Freeman and John Tchicai, the late alto saxophonist Charles Tyler, drummer Famoudou Don Moye of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, The Cecil Taylor Creative Orchestra, choreographer/dancer Bill T. Jones, the late writer Ntozake Shange, his longtime partner, actress Rhodessa Jones, and many others. He was a protégé of Chicago legendary master clarinetist Clifford King who had played with Jelly Roll Morton and Freddie Keppard in the 1920s. Ackamoor received his B.A. in Music from Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio where one of his most influential teachers was the influential pianist Cecil Taylor. He has also studied tap dance with legendary hoofers Al Robinson, Steve Condos, and Eddie Brown. He is one of the first musicians of his generation to have traveled, lived and studied in Africa in 1972/73. During his stay in Africa, he performed with the King’s Prayer Drummers of Tamale, Ghana as well as lived in Kenya where he studied the music of the Kikuyu and Masai.

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