Humanities Series - Dancer yon Tande

On December 9th, yon Tande (né Whitney V. Hunter) visited Dublin School as part of the Humanity Series.  yon Tande is a twenty year friend, co-performer and collaborator of Dublin Art Chair Jenny Foreman.  yon Tande and Foreman met as members of the Martha Graham Dance Company.

yon Tande works in the areas of performance, exhibition, curation, and education. He creates for the stage, gallery and alternative spaces. He has taught nationally and internationally at Peridance Center, Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre, Harlem School of the Arts, The Ailey School, Dance Institute of Washington, and Centro Nacional de Danza Contemporánea (MX), and is on the faculty at LaGuardia Performing Arts High School, the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance and Long Island University. He holds a B.F.A. in Theatre Arts/Dance (Howard University), an M.F.A. in New Media Arts and Performance (Long Island University) and is presently an Institute for the Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts Driskell Fellow.

Prior to his talk with the entire student body on Friday evening, he taught masterclasses for the Dance Ensemble and for the cast of Once on this Island, this year’s winter production, in his personal style that combines modern dance with traditional Afro-Carribean dance techniques. He also participated in a design-team meeting with the technical crew for the play, sharing his knowledge as a scholar of Haitian dance, ritual and culture and giving feedback on costume designs for this year’s play, which is set on a fictional Carribean island. 

For his Friday evening presentation, Tande talked about his life and work, which combines a focus on the politics of personal and cultural identity with dance, video and art installations. He discussed his personal journey as a black gay artist and the expectations of others and our culture toward him. During his talk he showed a series of videos of his work.

The first video that he showed was a video that he created as a part of his MFA program.  This self-exploration studied the relationship between what he thinks about himself and what he projects outwardly to the world.  He talked about how when those two things line up he becomes more what he wants to be instead of what others think he should be like.

His second video was an installation piece titled “Invisible Man,” based on the famous novel.  He talked about how as a black man he feels the he is sometimes in a culture where he is invisible or denigrated. The installation was built so that the observer would see parts of him dancing in a backing video as they moved around the space.  The dance performance was masked so that only portions could be seen at any time.  Cameras above the viewer determined the movement of the mask revealing sections of his performance. 

The final part of yon Tande’s talk concerned art and his concept of culture making.  As he has evolved as an artist he has realized that his focus was “not to dance to entertain… but that I wanted dance to incite, instigate and to create change.” He sees his mission as an artist and a person as creating art that is a means to an end in answering questions like: Why am I here? What is my purpose? How can I potentially impact others?  How can I make change in our culture?

He concluded by talking about how we live in a culture, and that in following that culture, we engage in culture making. Existing in a culture defines our place in the world. He talked about how we tend to take our culture for granted as we often are simply unaware of the culture we exist in but that any culture is defined by human activity.  yon Tande views changing culture as a potential catalyst for change and that every human being can be involved in it.

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