La Jolla Playhouse’s ‘Towards Belonging’ a harmonious mix of stories told through music, dance, art and poetry
La Jolla Playhouse-commissioned work, by choreographer Anjanette Maraya-Ramey, ‘a beautiful tapestry of individual solos and stories’
Revealing personal stories can connect people to a common humanity, and recognizing another’s point of view is critical to overcoming prejudice.
That’s why choreographer Anjanette Maraya-Ramey, artistic director and founder of Maraya Performing Arts, created “Towards Belonging,” a film that in May celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
“Towards Belonging” brings to life the experiences of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) community through dance, music, art and poetry. The voices of the dancers — woven into the soundtrack — express how it feels to be a non-White artist.
There are the recollections, for instance, of Japanese American dancer Hannah Pritchett.
“Oftentimes, I felt like a foreigner that truly never belonged,” Pritchett shared. “(I felt) restrained by judgment, restrained by ingrained prejudice and preconceived notions, which I have no control over. For as long as I can remember, I wondered if I could ever belong, and if I could ever just be accepted as I am.”
“Towards Belonging” was commissioned by the La Jolla Playhouse and is produced in association with the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation’s Arts Park @ Chollas Creek.
The project, made possible in part by support from Robin and Larry Rusinko, is one the works in the Playhouse’s virtual Without Walls (WOW) Festival. Performances were staged at site-specific locales in the past. This year, it’s presented online.
“When the shutdown happened, we quickly pivoted to creating digital work, and over the past year, we have launched 14 digital WOW works,” said Eric Keen-Louie, the Playhouse’s producing director. “It’s about breaking the fourth wall and getting art out and into the county of San Diego.”
Maraya-Ramey is a first-generation Filipina American and a former Playhouse staff member who stayed in touch with her colleagues, working periodically as a movement consultant for theater and dance projects.
Last year, she founded Maraya Performing Arts, a collective based in the South Bay, with a mission to uplift marginalized voices.
“We reached out to her and said, ‘Let’s create something,’” Keen-Louie said. “She suggested ‘Towards Belonging,’ and it’s a beautiful tapestry of individual solos and stories. It’s deeply moving and it comes together to encourage the audience to take action and make change in their communities.”
Though Maraya-Ramey had a skeletal version of the dance in her head, the recent tumultuous political and social climate infused the project with an energized sense of urgency and purpose.
Cinematographer Eboni Harvey, who documented the Black Lives Matter protests, was chosen to be director of photography. Maraya-Ramey also picked four BIPOC dancers — Pritchett, Ala Tiatia-Garaud, Jasmine Rafael and Alyssa Junious — who take the viewer on a journey that travels along a gravel path, past giant graffiti murals and walls splashed with rainbow colors. And Natasha Ridley, a Black, contemporary ballet dancer, is featured in a companion piece that pays tribute to the southeastern San Diego community.
San Diego poet Gill Sotu is the narrator, providing spoken-word poetry, and Maraya-Ramey consulted with David’s Harp Foundation founder Brandon Steppe to create a soundtrack.
Steppe is a youth mentor, and he recommended the 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 narratives for their solos,” Maraya-Ramey said. “So I said to my dancers, ‘Just talk about how you are feeling, how you identify and let it go.’ It took one take, and then we fused 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 involved kids because we wanted to articulate Gill’s words,” she said. “We talk about multigenerational, multiethnic kids 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 kids? I want people to reflect 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 challenging process. Keen-Louie said that the La Jolla Playhouse is committed to creating and supporting programs that address relevant race and cultural issues.
“You have to help educate the audience, in terms of telling stories about people they don’t know about,” he said. “We also can’t release our foot off the gas pedal of making these commitments and doing this work in a real way. That’s why we reached out to Anjanette. We knew, as an API (Asian Pacific Islander) artist, that we wanted to support her and that she felt the need to engage with the moment and say something. That’s who we are.”
La Jolla Playhouse presents ‘Towards Belonging’
When: Begins streaming May 1
Where: Online at lajollaplayhouse.org
Marcia Manna is a freelance writer For The San Diego Union-Tribune.
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