Revealing personal stories can connect people to a common humanity, and recognizing other people’s perspectives is essential in overcoming prejudice.
This is why choreographer Anjanette Maraya-Ramey, Artistic Director and Founder of Maraya Performing Arts, created “Towards Belonging,” a film that celebrates Asian-American and Pacific Island Heritage Month in May.
“Towards Belonging” brings the experiences of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and Colored) community to life through dance, music, art and poetry. The voices of the dancers – woven into the soundtrack – express what it feels like to be a non-white artist.
There are the memories, for example, of the American-Japanese dancer Hannah Pritchett.
“A lot of times I felt like a stranger who really never belonged,” Pritchett said. “(I felt) held back by judgment, held back by ingrained prejudices and preconceptions, over which I have no control. As far back as I can remember, I have wondered if I could ever be in my place and if I could be accepted as I am.
“Towards Belonging” was commissioned by La Jolla Theater and is produced in association with the Arts Park at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation @ Chollas Creek.
The project, made possible in part thanks to the support of Robin and Larry Rusinko, is one of the works of the Playhouse Virtual Festival Sans Murs (WOW). In the past, performances have been held in site-specific venues. This year it is featured online.
“When the shutdown occurred, we quickly switched to creating digital works and, over the past year, we have released 14 WOW digital works,” said Eric Keen-Louie, production manager at Playhouse. “It’s about breaking down the fourth wall and bringing art to San Diego County.”
Maraya-Ramey is a first-generation Filipino American and former Playhouse staff member who has kept in touch with her colleagues, periodically working as a movement consultant for theater and dance projects.
Last year, she founded Maraya Performing Arts, a South Bay-based collective with a mission to raise marginalized voices.
“We reached out to him and said, ‘Let’s make something,’” said Keen-Louie. “She suggested ‘Towards Belonging’, and it’s a beautiful tapestry of solos and individual stories. It is deeply moving and it comes together to encourage the public to take action and make change in their communities.
Although Maraya-Ramey has a skeletal version of the dance in her head, the recent tumultuous political and social climate has imbued the project with a strong sense of urgency and purpose.
Cinematographer Eboni Harvey, who documented the Black Lives Matter protests, has been chosen as cinematographer. Maraya-Ramey also chose four dancers from BIPOC – Pritchett, Ala Tiatia-Garaud, Jasmine Rafael and Alyssa Junious – who take the viewer on a journey that follows a gravel path, past giant graffiti and walls splashed with rainbow colors. And Natasha Ridley, a contemporary black ballet dancer, is featured in an accompaniment piece that pays homage to the community of Southeast San Diego.
San Diego poet Gill Sotu is the narrator, providing oral poetry, and Maraya-Ramey consulted with David’s Harp Foundation founder Brandon Steppe to create a soundtrack.
Steppe is a young mentor, and he recommended young composer Adrian Cantero, who wrote an original score that reflects the culture of each dancer with Japanese, Polynesian, hip-hop and jazz rhythms.
“Brandon suggested that the dancers record their own personal stories for their solos,” said Maraya-Ramey. “So I said to my dancers, ‘Just talk about how you feel, how you identify with yourself and let it go.’ It took a take and then we merged their music with their personal voices.
Maraya-Ramey also wanted to include children, who can be seen playing with bubbles and making chalk drawings.
“We got the kids involved because we wanted to articulate Gill’s words,” she said. “We are talking about multigenerational and multiethnic children and what they are going through. If we don’t awaken our country, if we don’t change or become more aware, what will happen to our children? I want people to think and think. We all need to change and create a better world for the next generation. “
The effort to implement change through the arts is a difficult process. Keen-Louie said La Jolla Theater is committed to creating and supporting programs that address relevant racial and cultural issues.
“You have to help educate the public, by telling stories about people they don’t know,” he said. “We also can’t take the gas off the gas to make those commitments and do this job in a real way. This is why we contacted Anjanette. We knew, as an API (Asian Pacific Islander) artist, that we wanted to support her and that she felt the need to engage in the moment and say something. This is who we are. “
La Jolla Playhouse presents ‘Towards Belonging’
When: Starts broadcasting on May 1
Or: Online at lajollaplayhouse.org
Marcia Manna is a freelance writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune.