The IAUM project was the bases and the true inspiration for me applying for this grant. This project was a self choreographed interactive development project where I created material based off the dialogue created by my cast. We tapped upon social issues we were all facing in the world and past experiences who have made us who we are today. The goal was to create a safe space for each artist to showcase themselves fully and without fear.
The “I Am Uniquely Me” Project, was a life enriching experience, not for only myself but for everybody involved in it. This project, gave me an outlet to confront many obstacles I was afraid of revisiting. It rekindled a fire in me, that initially reminded me of my purpose in life. I was able to step outside of my role as a performer at the conservatory, and really put on my directorial hat. I worked with a mass group of artist who were highly interested in my work. As a collective we worked together for about eight month developing material for the show. Everything shown in the performance was choreographed by me and created right there in the space during each rehearsal.
During my junior year here at The Conservatory I worked with a group of seventeen dancers in hopes of showcasing my choreography on the Main Stage. After creating a fifteen minute, three sectioned work it wasn’t picked for Winterworks. My cast and I were devastated as we worked so hard to perfect that piece. In my opinion, it was one of my best creations, but for various reasons it wasn’t picked for the concert. I allowed this bump in the road discourage me from creating material while here at the school.During that short period of time, I began to really appreciate the quote, “Its not so much about the product, but more so about the process. That process gave me the strength to push past the worst part of my sickness as I was just beginning to learn how to cope with going through treatment. I had a reason to get up everyday and use my art to heal my mind, body, and soul. On the days I felt the worst were the days I created the most beautiful movement. Around the time my piece didn’t get picked was when I received some of the best news of my life. My cancer was getting under control and if I followed all my doctors orders I could be on a road to remission. That summer my cancer was placed in remission and my entire outlook on life changed. I had a new voice, a new reason to live, I had purpose behind everything I did, and I walked with my head high knowing how far I’ve come.
This is when the idea of the “I Am Uniquely Me” Project arose. I wanted to use my gift to change the atmosphere here at the school. I created a project that welcomed artist into the space and allowed them to truly be themselves. I wanted to open myself up in my most purest state and tell my story. Over a series of days I wrote down every scar I needed to heal and every trial I needed to overcome. I used those unfortunate events to develop a rough outline of the show. From there the dancers and I met for weekly discussions. We spoke about the trials and tribulations we’ve faced in life, how our art has brought us through them, and about the things in life we cared about in general. After gathering all this information I was able to finishing developing my show. I had a mighty vision in my head as I knew it was going to connect to all viewers present. I knew the project would warm my heart, but also force me to confront the scars of my past. Each artist received the meaning behind each piece created. After receiving the artistic intent they went home and thought about what the piece meant to them and from there thats where we started building. I used my artistic meaning to develop the piece and they used their artistic meaning to develop the way they planned on executing the piece (solo, duet, trio, small ensemble, large ensemble).
I didn’t hold auditions for this project. I allowed my spirit to pick each individual artist. I would study each dancer for weeks before I would even ask them to be apart of my project. I wanted to instill my energy in artists who I knew wanted to grow with me. I was so thankful for my cast, as they inspired me beyond belief. They came into the space and brought all of them. We met each other in the middle and ran to the finish line hand in hand. I would lay in bed at night listening to the music of my show and right then and there I would get visions of certain dancers performing. I used those visions to give each dancer their roles in my show.
The show was broken down into four sections, “I Am She”, “Love Was”, “Love Is”, and “I Am He”. The cast of the I Am Uniquely Me used these sections to redefine ourselves as individuals and artist. The “I Am She” section was a tribute to all the woman in my life. I was raised by a very young mother who made it her business to instill greatness in me despite what society thinks about young mothers raising African American boys. She taught me how to value myself and everyone around me. She instilled that the best is yet to come and as long as I continue to walk by faith and not by sight I will forever be blessed. Each piece within this section showcased the different sides of being a woman. It brought forth a powerful statement that women can be sophsicated and sexy. Women don’t have to be overtly sexual to showcase their sensuality. Women can be proud of the skin their in and flaunt themselves in whatever manner they chose. One of my cast members, Georgia Lipari came to me and stated, “I am so thankful for you and this project. I am proud to be a woman under your direction.” This small gesture meant the world to me, as we once again overcame societies views on men controlling women. While working with Georgia, I learned more about what it meant to be a women which ultimately taught me how to be a better man.
The “Love Was” section reflected the many things I used to get over the struggles faced before coming to this institution. My views on love were awful, I carried a burden on my shoulders for year in fear of the consequences that would come with it. As a child I was molested by uncle for years while my mother was a way at college. I held this burden on my shoulders for fifteen years. I finally told my mother the summer before entering my senior year of college. As I created this section, each piece allowed me to redeem the love I had for myself. I let that part of my life rest, I forgave myself for keeping that in for such a long time, and I forgave him for his actions. These pieces helped mend my heart back together and majority of the artist dancing in it had no idea. This was exactly what I wanted for my project, because both me and each artist were changed by the creation of this work.
The “Love Is” section was created all in reaction to one person. When I first got to the Boston Conservatory I was very confused about my sexuality, I was hurt, and I felt lost. This is when I met a very special significant other who welcomed me into his life with open arms and helped me over come some major obstacles. During my time here I’ve never felt more love for someone than I do for him. Da’Rius Malone warmed my heart, and over time taught me what love really was. Through our ups, downs, and hard times he has never stopped loving me.This section was the first time I openly expressed my love for him. My entire mindset has changed and I am forever grateful for him. I know am confidently happy to be madly in love with another man and plan to spend the rest of my life developing something beautiful with him.
The “I am He” section was one of my dearest sections. This portion of the show really hit home for me as it took the audience on a journey of how the arts have developed me into the man I am today. This section was emulating what goes on in my mind when I reflect back to how far I’ve come. Justin Daniels solo “Who Am I?”, highlights the struggle many young African American men face when they are coming of age and trying to figure out where they fit in this crazy world. This Bitter Earth, reflects on how I used the strength of my fellow classmates to overcome illness. For months I was in denial of what was actually happening to me and I almost loss my life being stubborn. Sometimes in life we think if we do everything right at all times nothing bad will ever happen to us. I learned that the hard way, but over time I now see that God gives his toughest battles to his strongest warriors and I just so happen to be one of them. This section ended with a heartfelt solo. That specific spoken word poem tells my life story, it told the story of how I truly became a man. I don’t look like half the things I’ve been through. I will forever be grateful to live to see another day.