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

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For Immediate Release | The Motley Experiment

Scott Horton Communications




San Francisco, CA, December 14, 2021 – Award-winning choreographer, performance innovator and scholar Raissa Simpson and PUSH Dance Company partner with the Bayview Opera House to present the world premiere of The Motley Experiment, February 19-20. Simpson’s evening-length, multimedia exploration of a very light-skinned Black woman who passes for white in social setting at the height of the Harlem Renaissance finds it inspired by Jazz Age painter Archibald Motley. Featuring 10 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 Saturday, February 19, at 1pm and 4 pm and Sunday, February 20 at 3:00pm. Tickets are priced at audience choice of $10, $25, $50 general admission. Tickets can be purchased online at https://pushdance.org/motley

For the premiere, Simpson draws on five different paintings, including Motley’s 1925 The Octoroon Girl, which depict multiracial figures of African descent. For Simpson, Archibald Motley’s works represented his constant battle to disrupt societal favoritism of light-skin African Americans. Simpson observes that, “Motley’s fascination with his mother is both obsession and a reflection of her being able to hide her mixed-racial identity, proximity to whiteness and ability to cross colorlines in different ways he could never do himself. He then countered this ‘wanting to be white’ sentiment by depicting dark-skin tones with dignity and vibrance”

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 to 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.

“Archibald depicted Black life with dignity. I want audiences to see the pervasiveness of Race, hear rich vibrant sounds of jazz music, and reflect upon a hidden historical figure,’ Simpson says, “This is an opportunity to be transformed to a historical place just in time for Black History Month and engage with a topic that still affects many people today.”

About Raissa Simpson and PUSH Dance Company

Hailed for “Pushing the Standard,” by San Francisco Chronicle, Raissa Simpson is a scholar and artistic director of the San Francisco-based PUSH Dance Company. Her interdisciplinary dances are at the intersection of complex racial and cultural identities and centers around discourse on the complex experiences of racialized bodies. A graduate of SUNY Purchase with an MFA from UC Davis, Simpson had an extensive performance career with Robert Moses Kin and Joanna Haigood’s Zaccho Dance Theatre. PUSH Dance Company has been presented at Joyce SoHo, Aspen Fringe Festival, Dance St. Louis, Ferst Center, Los Angeles Women’s Theater Festival and Black Choreographers Festival. Her most recent article was published in the Afrofuturistic anthology Critical Black Futures (Palgrave MacMillan 2021).Simpson and PUSH have held residencies at the Bayview Opera House, Dance Carbondale, Garage Artspace, Zaccho Studio, African American American Culture Complex, and Margaret Jenkin’s CHIME. 

PUSH Dance Company’s 2022 Season is supported by the San Francisco Arts Commission, Zellerbach Family Foundation, The Kenneth Rainin Foundation, Grants for the Arts, African American Theater Alliance for Independence (AATAIN!), Dancing Around Race, Fleishhacker Foundation, City of San Francisco’s Dream Keeper Initiative, Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST), and the Phyllis C Wattis Foundation.

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.

About The Bayview Opera House
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.

Hi-Res Photos are available for download at: http://photos.shcommunications.org/GalleryThumbnails.aspx?gallery=4877222

PUSH Dance Company and Bayview Opera House co-present the world premiere of The Motley Experiment by Raissa Simpson February 19-20 at Bayview Opera House in San Francisco. The evening-length, multimedia dance work is inspired by Jazz-age Modernist and Harlem Renaissance figure Archibald Motley and features original music composed and performed live by Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids