Dancers rehearse for "Same Story" in the University of Delaware's Mechanical Hall Gallery.

'Same Story'

Arts-based project explores racial issues in US, South Africa


9:32 a.m., Jan. 27, 2016--When the University of Delaware’s Lynnette Overby decided that her newest arts-based project would examine past and present racial issues in the U.S. and South Africa, she took the term “multidisciplinary” to heart.

The developing project, “Same Story” Different Countries, now encompasses literary and historical research, visual arts, music, poetry and dance. 

Campus Stories

From graduates, faculty

As it neared time for the processional to open the University of Delaware Commencement ceremonies, graduating students and faculty members shared their feelings about what the event means to them.

Doctoral hooding

It was a day of triumph, cheers and collective relief as more than 160 students from 21 nations participated in the University of Delaware's Doctoral Hooding Convocation held Friday morning on The Green.

Participants include student and faculty researchers and performers, composers, choreographers, dancers, musicians, painters and poets – in locations spanning the globe from the UD campus to Wilmington and Dover in Delaware, to North Carolina and South Africa. 

By the time the project culminates with several public performances in March, it will have engaged audiences in schools, community centers, art galleries and concert halls, reaching out to communities whose residents aren’t typically thought of as producers or consumers of the arts.

“The project explores themes of oppression, resistance and liberation that are common in the history of the United States and South Africa,” said Overby, who is professor of theatre and director of the ArtsBridge Scholars Program at UD, as well as a dancer and choreographer.

“We looked at issues in U.S. history, such as slavery and Jim Crow laws, and asked how they relate to South Africa’s history of apartheid. These are historical issues, but they continue to bubble up today.”

The overall goal of the project, she said, is “to enable researchers, artists and participants to transform, synthesize and illuminate global racial issues in South Africa and the United States through an artistic lens.”

To that end, the production includes acts with such titles as “From Oppression to Resilience (The Power of Faith)” and “From Oppression to Resistance,” concluding with a theme of liberation and “The Power of Walking Together.” 

Performances work to integrate historical events with dance and music appropriate to their time, Overby said.

For example, she said, a piece called “Four Little Girls” remembers the children killed in the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, church bombing, exploring the tragedy in dance and poetry and ending with a gospel song.

Performers – including UD dance students as well as dancers from the Christina Cultural Arts Center (CCAC) and the modern dance company Pieces of a Dream, both in Wilmington – are now in preparation for an early February weekend of intense rehearsal. South African participants will come to Delaware for the March performances.

In addition to the production itself, the CCAC and Overby are conducting a related research project seeking to build audiences for the arts in Wilmington and to improve access to the arts for high-poverty, urban communities.

A group of city residents will be selected to discuss the themes involved in “Same Story” Different Countries and take photos and collect narratives from other community members related to oppression, resilience and liberation. 

These participants and those they interviewed will be invited to attend the final performance on March 13 at the Baby Grand, where their art, photos and stories will be displayed in the lobby. 

Performances are scheduled as follows, with more details to be available later:

  • Feb. 26 – Dover High School, a morning lecture-demonstration and afternoon workshops.
  • March 4 and 5 – 7:30 p.m., Mitchell Hall on the University’s Newark campus, annual concert for UD’s dance minor.
  • March 11 – Schwartz Theatre, Dover, lecture-demonstrations at 9:30 a.m. and noon and an evening performance with other South African artists.
  • March 12 – 5:30 p.m., Mitchell Hall, as part of the Master Players world music concert featuring 6ixwire, in collaboration with the "Same Story" Different Countries project.
  • March 13 – 3 p.m., Baby Grand, Wilmington.

Participants in the project

The artistic directors of “Same Story” Different Countries are Lynnette Overby and Colin Miller, the College of Arts and Sciences’ director for global arts and interim director for African studies.

Choreographers for the project are Overby and adjunct faculty member A.T. Moffett from UD; Lela Aisha Jones of FlyGround in Philadelphia and Ashley Sullivan Davis of Pieces of a Dream in Wilmington, both community performance groups; Tumi Nkomo of South Africa; Lisa Wilson of the University of Cape Town; Vincent Thomas of Towson University; and Teresa Emmons of Dover High School.

The musical director is Ralph Russell of Pennsylvania, with composers Xiang Gao, Trustees Distinguished Professor of Music at UD, and South African drummer Kesivan Naidoo.

Original art has been created by South African artists Garth Erasmus, who last spring was UD’s first international visiting artist in residence.

Performances will feature 21 dancers – undergraduate students from UD as well as dancers with the Christian Cultural Arts Center and Pieces of a Dream – and about 10 UD musicians.

Other key contributors working with the project are historians P. Gabrielle Foreman, who is Ned B. Allen Professor of English and a professor of Black American studies, and Elaine Salo, associate professor of political science and international relations, both at UD; poet Glenis Redmond of North Carolina; and Julie McGee, curator of African American art for University Museums and associate professor of Black American studies at UD.

Five UD undergraduates, termed “scholar-artists” by Overby, conducted research beginning last summer on various aspects of U.S. and South African racial history and issues. Kelsey Daniels examined education and legal segregation in both nations, Dominique Oppenheimer studied women’s activism, Nicodemus Williams focused on the impact of music on apartheid and in the U.S. civil rights movement, Kaitlyn Naismyth examined the role of religion in promoting resilience during segregation, and Pernilla Lauren Mpasi studied mothers and resilience during times of oppression. 

Support for the project

Key community collaborators with the University have been the Christina Cultural Arts Center and the modern dance company Pieces of a Dream, both in Wilmington.

Financial support for the project has been provided by UD’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center, Arts Bridging Cultures, College of Arts and Sciences and Master Players Concert Series and by the Christina Cultural Arts Center (CCAC) and the University of Cape Town.

The CCAC, in partnership with Overby, applied for and received a $20,000 grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to involve teenagers and young adults in Wilmington in the project and enable them to share their voices and experiences.

The Center for the Study of Diversity helped support one of the scholar/artists. The other scholar/artist funding came from the University's Undergraduate Research Program, the Institute for Global Studies and the College of Arts and Sciences.

Article by Ann Manser

Photos by Dan Dunlap; painting by Garth Erasmus

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