I would like to address some recent concerns about cultural sensitivity in our upcoming performance of The Lion King. These concerns surfaced during a preview of one of the show’s scenes at the Joyful Heart Dance Fundraiser held in Portland on Nov. 18.
Kinetic Energy Alive Dance Production’s The Lion King: A Brothers’ Tale, is an original dance theater adaptation of the classic story of The Lion King, with an epic twist. While it incorporates the classic storyline, it also brings a new and diverse mix of music and dance styles, showcasing the talents of our community and our studio. Developed over the course of 18 months, A Brothers’ Tale was drawn from my own personal experiences, with guidance and support from Guinean drummer Namory Keiti (Namorydrum.com). It is a story of love and forgiveness, of connection and community.
Our 60 performers are all volunteers, and range in age from 6 to 74. They come from as close to home as Camden, and from as far away as The Congo. They were drawn from two open casting calls in 2016 and 2017 in which no dancer who wanted to perform was turned away. Performers chose their own animal roles from among a cast of flamingoes, giraffes, zebras, cheetahs, hyenas, a baboon, and, of course, lions. Our costuming and make-up are animal-centric, not anthropomorphic, and our choreography draws from a broad range of styles including ballroom dancing, martial arts, hip hop, krumping, contemporary, popping, and Broadway jazz.
A photograph circulated from the Portland preview performance raised concerns because it appeared that I was made up in black face. While the make-up used was actually blue and green, I realize that it appeared black in the photograph (and possibly also in the performance) and am deeply sorry for any offense that may have been caused. I also realize now that the costume I wore, while appropriate for the dancer who will perform this role in the full production, was not appropriate for me. Due to these concerns, we have revised our make-up plans for the production, and have enlisted the advice of White Nonsense Roundup to review our costuming and make-up to ensure that we are presenting a culturally sensitive performance.
As American dancers performing a story that originated in Africa, maintaining cultural sensitivity is incredibly important to all of us. We have learned a great deal in the process of creating this wonderful show, and have made important changes as a result of listening and learning. I know these changes will improve our connection to this story, and hope its message of love and forgiveness come through to you, our audience.