Local artist expresses black experience through skating-dance fusion

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In a unique fusion of figure skating, dance, and African American history, Minnesota native Kisha Deneane Richburg will choreograph, produce and perform her final MFA (Master of Fine Arts) thesis project Friday, September 22, and Saturday, September 23, at the Ice Works Skating Complex in Aston, Pennsylvania.

Born and raised in Minnesota, Richburg is completing her degree at Temple University in Philadelphia. This will be her second master’s degree; her first is in Afro-American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She graduated from Carleton College in Northfield with a B.A. in English and African American Studies.

In addition to her scholarly pursuits, Richburg has an extensive competitive history in figure skating and holds gold medals’ in ice dance and freestyle. This concert is not merely a showcase of her choreography and the performance abilities of the skaters participating in it. It is also an exploration of the truths and myths that have influenced and continue to influence the black community in this nation.

The first piece in this concert is a solo that illustrates the mental oppression African Americans continue to suffer by exploring the tension between the skater’s desire to skate with a lot of speed and perform big jumps, and the choreography constantly pulling him back to static and contained movements.

The second piece is a duet. Using text, this work is comprised of a conversation between two Black women about dealing with the apparent dichotomy of living as complex, multi-dimensional individuals in a space where they are compartmentalized, externally defined, and thereby limited. This conversation not only takes place through the dialogue, but also through the skater’s movement, and consists not only of words, but of abstracted facial movements, vocalizations and silence.

The third work is a solo that explores the visual objectification of black women through the story of Saartjie Baartman, otherwise known as the “Hottentot Venus” or “Sara Baartman.” Through a tightly contained and emotional solo, we experience her demeaning tenure as an exotic artifact in both Great Britain and Paris in the early 1800s.

Throughout this concert, Richburg seeks to deepen the investigation of the complexities, the beauty, the strength, and the resiliency of black experiences, thereby taking the audience on a journey of deeper understanding and appreciation for the people we are, the path our ancestors have taken, and the journey upon which future generations of blacks will embark.

These investigations give a sense of place in a space where American culture says blacks do not belong by defining them beneath and outside of the norm and therefore sub/abnormal. Blacks are in need of such investigations and affirmation.

This struggle is etched on the faces of numerous young blacks every day — the struggle to reconcile their sense of self with the roles and spaces to which American culture often assigns them.

This acknowledgement of depth of character beyond these roles, the search for beauty, and the process of healing from a messy and drawn-out history of oppression, humiliation, and de-humanization is the basis from which Richburg’s work stems.