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UNC Charlotte production of ‘Remembrance’ embraces history
Documents Charlotte's Ring Shout culture
 
Published Saturday, November 21, 2020 2:34 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

PHOTO | UNC CHARLOTTE
The short film “Remembrance” premiers Nov. 20 as part of UNC Charlotte’s virtual fall dance concert.

Tamara Williams used an unconventional semester to document the rich history of Ring Shout.


When UNC Charlotte transitioned to remote learning last fall, Williams, an assistant professor of dance in the department of dance, was committed to producing fall performances that expanded on her research on African American Ring Shout traditions, particularly pertaining to Charlotte’s history. No one knew if the performances would be experienced in-person or virtually at the time, so she explored other ways of showcasing the fall performance in April.


“Since I’ve been doing such deep work in Ring Shout traditions, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to use technology, to use this time of a bit of isolation to go deep into the historical landmarks and how they are significant here in Charlotte in connection to Ring Shout, and why not put it in a dance film, so it could be documented and shared with a larger audience than just those who may come for a concert series,” Williams said. “It becomes a document that can be shared with other universities. It could be shared with museums. It could be dispersed to a larger national audience.”


Williams held virtual auditions before selecting five students: Amber Colby, Jorge Lopez Ortega, Nia Mills, Kenny Raynor and Charity Williams. The work culminates in a 10-12-minute short film titled “Remembrance,” which premiered on Nov. 20 as part of UNCC’s Virtual Fall Dance Concert.


Original music in “Remembrance” is by Luciano Xavier. Williams is the featured singer.


Each student was tasked to create a two-minute solo as part of the process about a matriarch in their family. The experience made history contemporary for the students.


“Since it has to do with history, but also bringing in their own personal history and their own family history, they were really invested in it,” Williams said. “I asked them think about, ‘without these women, how would that have affected your life? How would it have affected your parents or how you are today? What maybe through your lineage has been brought down and shared with you?’ In that way, it has brought it to present day in a way that they could think about history, how people in their struggles, their joys and their resistance, how they all preserve culture and make us who we are today.”


“Remembrance” honors the memory of the enslaved and their descendants, not only through the art form itself, but through three carefully chosen locations: the Stafford Cabin, the Siloam School and the Catawba River.


“In thinking of where we would film, I made contact with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission,” Williams said. “I had some ideas of some places we would want to go around Charlotte, but I spoke with Jack Thompson and he gave me many more ideas. He told me about the Stafford Cabin, which was built for enslaved families in the 1760s. It is one of the last reported cabins of this nature in the area. The last reported enslaved family lived there in 1849. There is documentation of people still living there until the 1940s. When he told me about it, I immediately said, ‘yes, this is a place we want to go to.’”


While the Stafford Cabin sits on private property off the Plaza Road Extension, the property owner was happy to assist in the project.


“It sits on the property of a private residence,” Williams said. “I made contact with Ms. Freeman, and she welcomed us with open arms on her property to do some filming.”


Meg Whalen, director of communications and external relations for UNCC’s College of Arts + Architecture referred Williams to videographer Marlon Morrison for the project.


“He does amazing work,” Williams said. “He has been following sex traffickers in the Dominican Republic. He has done work filming the Black Lives Matter movement throughout the United States. This is in the spirit of really documenting Black culture, Black history.”


The Siloam School, which educated African American children, currently sits at its original site on Mallard Highlands Drive near UNCC, behind an apartment complex. The Charlotte Museum of History is in the process of raising funds to move and restore the school. It is a Rosenwald era and style school, built during the early 20th century. Rosenwald Schools were built throughout the South during that time, with some established by communities, such as the Siloam school, while others received funding from the Rosenwald Foundation.

George E. Davis—the first Black professor at Johnson C. Smith University and a Rosenwald agent – oversaw the construction of 813 schools across North Carolina, 26 in Mecklenburg County.


“Having these two very significant parts of Black culture and history in Charlotte and having the Ring Shout as a movement of place around them, you could not go into either place, because of safety precautions, but the dancers were able to see, learn about the history and understand the cultural contextualization of how both of these buildings were a way to bring community together,” Williams said. “They were places of resistance and resilience, just as the Ring Shout dance is in itself.”


The final filming space was the film, based on the historic connection between Ring Shout dances being performed along bodies of water.


“The river is very significant in African American culture and communities, as a place of rebirth, cleansing, communion and revitalization,” Williams said. “We did some filming there to bring this full energy of nature, water and community together.”


For more information about the 2020 Virtual Dance Concert: https://coaa.uncc.edu/events/fall-2020-virtual-dance-concert

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