A new dance work explores love and friendship between African-American men | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A new dance work explores love and friendship between African-American men

"There are other things men of color do that can be viewed as self-hate."

Dancer and choreographer Anthony Williams
Photo courtesy of Anna Malguina
Dancer and choreographer Anthony Williams

Beyond simply entertaining audiences, concert dance is an important means of self-expression for its creators and performers. Some artists employ dance as a forum to air their thoughts and feelings on issues important to them. In Loving Black, Oct. 17 at The Alloy Studios, local dancer and choreographer Anthony Williams uses dance to advance his own views on the complicated attitudes surrounding love and friendship between African-American men.

Loving Black is the latest in the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater's Fresh Works series. The 30-minute work-in-progress reflects Williams' personal perceptions of the African-American male, along with ideas about self-love gleaned from the writings of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, James Baldwin and others.

Williams, 27, is a Chicago native who trained and performed with Ballet Chicago and Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre before moving to Pittsburgh to join the now-disbanded August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble. He's currently a freelance dance artist and resident teaching artist at the Kelly-Strayhorn. Loving Black, a multimedia work, is set to a mix of original music created by Jovan Sharp: spoken word, jazz and funk. Williams says the piece takes something as simple as the way African-American males greet each other with a handshake instead of a hug and examines it through the lens of hip-hop culture and history via slavery's lingering effect on how African-American males behave in social situations. Williams says that slavery conditioned African Americans to believe they were less worthy as human beings, and that this demoralization carries over into today.

"There are other things men of color do that can be viewed as self-hate," says Williams. "We don't always view women as equals."

Williams says the work also references a divide within the black community. Some African Americans, he says, want to distance themselves from their ethnicity in their personal appearance, while others are ridiculed for not being "black enough."

Williams means to engage his audience in the complexity of past and present representations of black male identities and attitudes. Beyond that, he says he wants Loving Black's cast of four men of color, including himself, to be positive role models for the Pittsburgh dance community, where he feels professional African-American male dancers are currently underrepresented.