- Choreographer: Aszure Barton
- Music: Sons of Kemet (see Program Notes below for listing)
- Costumes: Michelle Jank; costumes built in the PBT Costume Shop
- World Premiere: March 24, 2022 by Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre at August Wilson African American Cultural Center in Pittsburgh
- PBT Performance Date: March 24-27, 2022 at August Wilson African American Cultural Center in Pittsburgh
Bright progressions grew from what choreographer Aszure Barton describes as a “deep sense of wanting to make something bright and celebratory,” “something that is positive, rhythmic, and regenerative.”
She started with fierce and funky and joyful music by the British band Sons of Kemet, whose sound is energized by jazz, hip hop, Caribbean and pan-African traditions. As creating began here in Pittsburgh the process embraced not only this fantastic sound palette but also the dancers – who poured their own steps and phrases into the work. For Barton, choreographing is about human connection and collaboration, about creating a space that allows dancers to contribute, to bring themselves forward, to make choices, to have agency. That respect and trust – built together in the studio – translates to what one dancer called a sense of freedom and self-confidence on stage, and ultimately to a connection with the audience that is less that of performer and audience, and more an experience of shared humanity.
. . . I want everyone in the room being so connected to that jubilant feeling of really just enjoying the celebration of music. That’s what I’m trying to get with [our] performances, the situation where every single person in that room can feel this energy that brings us all together. And once we are together, for me that’s when the transcendence can happen.
– Shabaka Hutchings
The music for Bright progressions is a selection of works by British jazz band Sons of Kemet. Led by saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, the ensemble (sax, tuba, and two drummers) formed in 2011 and has released four albums. Kemet is an ancient name for Egypt, translated as “black land,” and thought to refer to the fertile soils of the flood plains along the Nile River.
The band’s sound is described as “eloquent, fierce, explosively funky and thrillingly out-there.”* Jazz, hip hop, Caribbean and pan-African music feed through and energize the sound, though Hutchings describes treating those genres with “irreverence” and from a perspective of reevaluating, reinterpreting, and decontextualizing musical categories.
The first two pieces in the ballet come from the 2015 album Lest We Forget What We Came Here to Do – Hutchings’ reflection on Caribbean immigrant life in England and “what it means to be a Black person in Britain now.
The third piece, To Never Forget the Source, is from last year’s album, Black to the Future, a response to the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and U.S. and worldwide protests and upheaval. “To Never Forget” is an invocation of the unifying and healing principles found in traditional African cosmologies to “realize a better future for humanity.”
Bright progressions closes with My Queen is Anna Julia Cooper, a track on Your Queen is a Reptile, 2018. The album
honors Black female historical figures, including Harriet Tubman, Angela Davis and more. Anna Julia Cooper was born
enslaved on a North Carolina plantation; after the Civil War she
became an educator and civil rights advocate. She was one of
the first Black scholars to earn a Ph.D. and is considered the mother of Black feminism. The album title skewers the concept of hereditary monarchy, asking listeners to consider the absurdity that lineage alone should determine who governs in some societies.