A fighting dance: Choreographer knocks out stereotypes

A fighting dance: Choreographer knocks out stereotypes
Gennadi Novash

She’s not pulling her punches!

A Flatbush woman will take on the global struggle of black men in a new dance piece set inside a boxing ring. The creator of “Portrait of Myself as My Father,” opening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Sept. 14, said that she created the dance piece to help her to understand the father she barely knew.

“I am drawing a self-portrait of myself embodying my father by really trying to put on my father’s shoes, to be in my father’s body, to become a man, and become masculine,” said dancer and choreographer Nora Chipaumire. “I carry my father whether I knew him or not.”

Chipaumire, now 51, said that she is of an age when she longs to understand her parents, who divorced when she was young (her previous work “Miriam” explored her mother’s life).

“It was very unusual in that generation — to grow up in Zimbabwe without a father,” said Chipaumire. “I’ve been searching to discover who this man was, and what is it about the black male that intrigues.”

During the 75-minute show, Chipaumire and two other performers will enter a makeshift boxing ring and use a combination of contemporary Western dance moves and popular West African dances — such as the percussive coupé décalé — to demonstrate how black men navigate a world that stereotypes them as lazy or as hyper-sexual. To embody her father, Chipaumire will don a set of football pads — the most masculine clothing she could imagine — and a set of gris-gris, African good luck charms.

Chipaumire chose a boxing ring because the sport has been popular among black men who want to show off their strength. The ring also recalls Roman gladiatorial fights, she said.

“A boxing ring is a more cleaned up version of that arena,” she said. “Historically, it has also always been for the working poor and a sport where African-American men could prove themselves.”

The boxing ring setting will also help engage the audience and get them to invest in the characters on stage, said Chipaumire — one of whom will take on the role of the ringmaster.

“As spectators we love the pain and sexiness of boxing — the men duking it out and the girls in hot pants,” she said. “The audience will take a side — it becomes clear when certain people are liking certain things and they’ll start rooting.”

“Portrait of Myself as My Father” at BAM Fishman Space [321 Ashland Pl. between Lafayette Avenue and Hanson Place in Fort Greene, (718) 636–4100, www.bam.org]. Sept. 14–17 at 7:30 pm. $25.

Him against the world: Nora Chipaumire will embody her father while wearing football shoulder pads.
Gennadi Novash