Performance works




Notes on the Program:“If I, John Henry…” is basically an autobiographical sketch of my life set against the folkloric tale of John Henry. The story of John Henry is kindred to me as it takes place in Alabama (my home state) and my father was a railroad worker. It is essentially the story of man vs. machine. I felt the story was particularly fertile as the question of artist life in the Bay vs. the tech takeover had been on the tongues of many. I likened the story of John Henry to that of an Ogun figure (i.e. masonry, iron (the railroad), and iron will.) He walks through the forest with an axe clearing the forest, in an act of deforestation to make clear for the railroads. This explores deeper themes of the dancer as workhorse, and themes of the modern/folkloric dancer treating the stage as representing the inner garden or ideas. It also problematizes the Orisha as Archetype alongside Archetype as Cultural Memory- they are not mutually exclusive. The piece poses the question of Black Manhood in America as a series of Symbolic Tasks and explores themes of: freedom, Baptisim, Performed Masculinity, gun violence, sexual libido, destroying the ego, and perfection in death. It is a contemporary piece that runs for 15 mins. We will be using live music, pre-recorded spoken word, projections of text and dance to convey the story.”


Choreographer: Brontez Purnell in collaboration with Jon Campbell, Titaina Kemuh, Tireany | Dancers: Jon Campbell, Titaina Kemuh, Tiereany |Premiered: Black Choreographers Festival: Here and Now (Feb 22nd 2015)  Dance Mission Theater, San Francisco CA 2015 | Support From: Self Produced


This was a very complicated piece for me. It was basically the first work i did of a deeply personal nature (most of my personal sketchs had a very universal theme to it) and in the middle of me mounting this work my father passed away. When I premied this work at the San Francisco Black Choreographers Festival i offered in part as a going away/love letter/eulogy for my Father Samual Lee Purnell


Presented as dance-theater at a regional dance festival, the piece refused any gendered or racialized reading of it as some kind of courtship narrative. Instead, it offered a more horizontal and unexpected intimacy than “romance,” as the dancers shared space and then immediately repelled each other through their choreography. The simple production (no lights, no props, no music, street clothes for costumes) and identifiably colloquial choreography resulted in a piece that challenged its audience to think past heteronormative tropes in dance and the relationship narratives that almost obligatorily accompany duets.  – If I, Brontez Purnell, By Anna Martine Whitehead Edurance Test, Art Practical [see article here]