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Hope Boykin – Redefine US from the INside OUT

by Edwina Thertulien for The Dance Journal

Hope Boykin’s Philadelphia premiere of Redefine US from the INside OUT occurred on Thursday, March 11, 2021, at the Annenberg Center. This was an original, live event performed on stage and streamed online due to Covid restrictions. Although Boykin danced briefly within the work, most of it was performed by her four dancers: Meagan King, Alisha Peek, Martina Viadana, and Terri Ayanna Wright – all of which have had a longstanding mentor-mentee relationship with Boykin. The work was set to instrumental music and spoken word, written and performed by Boykin. The spoken word featured powerful phrases such as “my lowest is not my weakest,” “my lane is my own,” and “conscious quiet, searching more for less.”

Boykin’s attention to detail contributed to the clarity of her message. In one section, Boykin talks about the journey. She uses frequent pauses between the words. Boykin’s projections felt like trying to learn a new language, figuring out if what one is saying is truly what is being communicated. It reflected a state of learning, or better yet, discovery.

By contrast, the dancer’s movements on stage were often slow and drawn out. At one point, she is in the stag position (standing in parallel on one leg, while the other leg is up and bent, the thigh is parallel to the floor, and toe is pointed to the ceiling), and her arm slowly reaches out until it straightens all the way. The artistic choice of using the contrast between hesitation and slow progression created a deeper understanding of what it means to be on a journey within oneself. Yes, some journeys require a difficult learning process that may feel unsteady and choppy, while others are a slow and meticulous process that requires a type of heightened focus that is unwavering.

After the show’s premiere, viewers were given the opportunity to listen in on an artist talkback session, where she also answered a few questions from the audience. I asked Boykin whether the spoken word inspired the choreography in this piece or vice versa, and in response, she said this:

“I found out that I write in a very similar cadence to the way that I create movement, and so, I can do either or first… I believe movement is abstract, so it doesn’t matter what you do; the meaning can change.”

She continued on by giving an example of how the meaning of a simple gesture can change when you put it in different contexts. She illustrated this by explaining how one can jab their arm forward and it can mean ‘get out of my way’ or ‘please don’t leave.’

“It’s just how it’s said, it’s how its placed, its how its coded in lights,” she continued, “so how you put everything in context is really [about] seeing the final result in my head before the end. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be music first [or] sound first [or] movement first. I kind of see the final picture and then build up to that – however it comes.”

The message of Redefine US from the INside OUT is a universal one. It is one of questioning, shifting, choosing, and ultimately continuing on a path of self-discovery. Boykin’s overall positive outlook on one’s personal growth journey, often negatively perceived as too daunting, was both soul-stirring and refreshing and perhaps much needed during this difficult time in history.

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