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Five colleges praise Primus. (News).

"Riffing on the Legacy," a series of events honoring the late, legendary dancer and anthropologist Pearl Primus, brightened New England in late February. The weeklong tribute was mounted by Peggy Schwartz, chair of the Five College dance department, a consortium of Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College, Hampshire College, and the University of Massachusetts. (Primus taught at the colleges from 1984 to 1991.) The event was funded with a grant from the National College Choreography Initiative and culminated in Walking with Pearl, a new work by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, artistic director of Urban Bush Women, that was based on a dance Primus presented in a faculty concert almost twenty years ago.

In the first year of her tenure, ten years before her death, Primus staged Excerpts From an African Journey, a suite of traditional dances. Among them was "Bushasche," a small but powerful dance from Zaire, which she described in program notes as a means of insuring peace as "warriors challenge the Evil Spirit of War and trample it into the ground."

Given that the ritual was designed to be performed once every twenty years to secure the safety of the next generation, Schwartz thought it was time to bring it back. By her own account, Schwartz has been "collecting material and doing research toward a biography and documentary on Primus since she died."

"Pearl had a vision for this dance," said Schwartz, "that it would be taught in every high school in America so that kids could experience strength and power through artistic expression. Knowing how much she wanted this piece out there in the world, I felt free to reconstruct this from videotape. We asked artists to re-envision it in light of their own commitments," said Schwartz, "and we were moved by Jawole's proposal."

Zollar proposed to "engage participants in research connecting Ms. Primus's work to their personal histories," shaping a collective choreographic internalization. Schwartz taught "Bushasche" to students, and then Zollar came to the Five Colleges to build upon that work, which incorporated Primus's voice and drummers from the community.

In an interview following the performance, Zollar said that she "looked at the elements of `Bushasche' as a springboard, distinguishing between the rhythm and tensions in traditional and contemporary work."

Schwartz also took "Bushasche" into two area high schools, in keeping with Primus's vision. In addition, at the colleges, there were classes, lectures, and discussions on Primus's choreographic process, as well as a photo exhibit contrasting archival photographs of Primus by Barbara Morgan and of Zollar by Kane Stewart. Walking With Pearl will be performed again this month as part of the Inside/Out Series at Jacob's Pillow.
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Title Annotation:Peggy Schwartz organizes a tribute to Pearl Primus
Author:Kronen, H.B.
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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