FringeArts Preview: UNARMED by Arielle Pina


by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal

UNARMED, directed and choreographed by 23-year old Arielle Pina, is quickly becoming one the most talked about shows in this year’s Fringe Arts festival. And not without good reason. Like all good Fringe shows, it promises to be edgy—you can get a sense of what’s in store from the naked bodies in the show’s promo materials— but this is edgy with an agenda, and important one at that.

Pina graduated from UArts but she credits Headlong Performance Institute with the genesis of UNARMED. At the time, the country was recovering from the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Mike Brown, but perhaps “recover” is the wrong word. As an artist, Pina felt like she needed to do something and as dance felt inappropriate to her at the time, she created a live installation for Headlong’s final show.

The exhibit featured black and white photographs of nude models with their hands behind their heads. Audience members were presented with a definition of the word “genocide” and asked to respond to a prompt via sticky tab: Who am I in relation to the genocide of unarmed black Americans? I am______

Responses varied from simply, “I am a wall,” to, “I am a black woman in fear of my son’s life.” Less than a year later, when Pina learned of Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody, she again felt called to act. “The acts of violence were becoming so randomized. I realized it could be anybody next, anybody I knew or even me.”

She contacted a few friends and, in her own words, “I registered for the Fringe and called it dance.”

UNARMED is perhaps more appropriately described as theater art, with only 2 formally-trained dancers amongst the cast of 5 (which also includes a guitarist and a singer). Pina describes her movement vocabulary as “durational and stylized,” noting that most rehearsals grew from discussions around difference.

The show will take place at Shiloh Baptist Church, a space that Pina notes for its environment-producing “quirky, decrepit brick work and jagged wood.” It features live music comprised entirely of original compositions—no easy feat considering the performers had to condense the entire rehearsal process into 3 one-week intensives consisting of 6-hour days.

Pina isn’t hoping to hit audiences over the head with any particular message, but rather to start conversations. She wants people to explore how they contextualize themselves within the work, how they personify themselves, how they respond based on their background.

With regards to the issue of race, Pina notes that it doesn’t matter how she defines herself because she’s still “a black woman in the eyes of society.” And as such, she battles with questions of perception.

“There’s the ‘angry black woman’ complex that I don’t want to play into but there is definitely anger in the work and that’s important, so I’m figuring out what I’m allowed to say and what I’m allowed not say without fulfilling that stereotype.”

Arielle Pina
Sept 11 at 7pm
Sept 12 at 7pm
Sept 13 at 7pm
Shiloh Baptist Church, 2031 Montrose St, Phila
$15 / 50 minutes