Written by Francis Scudellari
The New International Center of Diverse Arts (NICODA) presents How We Are Connected, a response to National Geographic’s The Genographic Project and an exploration of cultural connections through theater, music, dance, multimedia, and science.
Is it by a common culture, or a shared environment -- the sights and sounds, the tastes and smells of a particular place, which reach across generations, and sometimes call us back to our ancestral homes?
Is it by our family histories, the stories of personal struggle our parents and grandparents have passed down to us? Or going even further back, the journeys our ancestors took to get to wherever our here is now?
After you’ve experienced one of NICODA’s dramatic productions, titled, `How We Are Connected', you’ll answer all of the above, and add to that list an even deeper connection, one that scientists have only recently been able to piece together, the clues of a common human origin, stretching back millennia, that are hidden in our very DNA.
The fall 2012 presentations of `How We Are Connected' are the first of what will be a series of six annual productions focusing on different regions of the globe. This year, the spotlight shines on the Caribbean.
The current version of `How We Are Connected' was written by Jenny Lynn Bader and J. Steven Brantley. The six-year program was conceived by NICODA's Executive Director Raquel Miller, and this production cycle was conceived and directed by Ari Laura Kreith.
`How We Are Connected' is a very self-aware play, which is fitting given the subject matter. It mixes the actors personal histories with imagined and real past events, and includes the actual results of the DNA tests some of the performers took, as well as the actors’ reactions to what those tests revealed, or didn’t.
It’s a skillful interweaving of dramatic performance, song and dance to show very intimately how these men and women, their families, and even a few historical figures, have struggled over the years with questions of identity and belonging. "The director facilitated a two month development process, working with writers and actors to explore facts, fantasies, dreams and possibilities about their ancestral heritage. The stories that emerged from these workshops, and later the results of DNA tests and their collective conversations about them, highlight `How We Are Connected'."
The Caribbean has a rich and diverse cultural history, and it easily provokes such questioning, with the mixing of many peoples that has taken place there over the past five centuries. Some came to the region voluntarily, many were forced there through the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but they all ended up replacing the indigenous tribes who lived there long before Columbus landed, and who only survive today as traces in the current peoples’ blood.
The cast is made up of thirteen performers, who have backgrounds in drama, music and dance, and who all have family ties to countries from the Caribbean region, including Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Haiti. They include: Marcelino Feliciano, a professional jazz vocalist/musician/actor of Puerto Rican heritage; Sorely Muentes Méndez, a dance Choreographer who was born to a family of performers in San Juan, Puerto Rico and who, along with Ricarrdo Valentine of Jamaican heritage, has also choreographed works in the piece; Luis M. Paulino Nova, a singer and an actor from the Dominican Republic; Greer Morrison a singer and actor of Jamaican heritage.
In `How We Are Connected' - The Caribbean, they and the other cast members transport us to their ancestral homes through remembrance and song, and they allow us to experience some of the political and personal back story of the region. We get to sample its music, its food, its spiritual traditions, its bloody history of struggle and oppression, as well as the uplifting narrative of the generations who persevered and overcame those struggles, whether while remaining there, or by finding a new home here in the US.
Thanks to the work done in association with National Geographic’s Genographic Project, science has shed some new light on that question. Uncovering the clues hidden in our DNA, geneticists have been able to trace us all back to a common origin on the continent of Africa, and to reconstruct the principal migratory paths our ancestors took tens of thousands of years ago, as they populated the rest of the world.
The actors and characters in the play sometimes struggle to find meaning in the DNA findings they share, but the play ultimately reaches a hopeful, life-affirming conclusion: The self-knowledge the tests provide may not immediately solve society’s many and complicated problems, but it’s one very large and important step in the direction of unity and empowerment.
You’ll have a few different opportunities to see `How We Are Connected' - The Caribbean, grapple with its questions, and feel its uplift. There will be a premier at Brooklyn Museum on Oct 20th at 2:30pm. A third performance will be held November 4th at 3pm at the Theater at PS 69 in Jackson Heights, Queens. Performances are FREE to the public.
To learn more about NICODA, visit their website, http://www.nicoda.org/
Caption: Photos by Tyrone Z McCants