‘Quiet As It’s Kept’: A one-of-a-kind journey of African American history told on ice

Photo by Johanna AustinArt
Photo by Johanna AustinArt

The powerful, signature jazz vocals of local singing sensation Thomasina Petrus will be featured in a new theatrical modern dance-figure skating fusion production, Quiet As It’s Kept, which tells a story through modern dance and figure skating about the complexities of African American cultural history and how ideologies from the past persist today.

Quiet As It’s Kept is a collaboration between Petrus and Deneane Richburg, founder of Brownbody, an independent production company that develops and performs artistic work to raise social-cultural and historical awareness.

The production draws from the poignant speeches and letters written by Ida B. Wells and the vocal performances by Petrus to explore the reconstruction period, the rise of Jim Crow “governance,” and the impact this period of time had on our nation as a way to reflect upon current events and beliefs.

Photo by Richard Scott
Photo by Richard Scott

As soon as the audience walks through the door, they will interact with the cast of professional figure skaters and be transported back in time — back to the time when freed slaves were heading north in search of family and opportunities. Figure skaters will perform and use their body and movements to act out the slaves experiences.

Members of the audience will then be reminded of current-day events with visual and audio effects that include sounds of police sirens, steel prison doors slamming, and bodies falling to the ground. “We want audiences to see the comparison between present day and our past, and understand that African Americans are still fighting the same battle our ancestors fought as slaves and freed slaves,” said Richburg.

Professional figure skaters of color perform and depict the history of race-based oppression and how this history relates to our contemporary 2015 American ideologies. One of the figure skaters/performers is nationally and internationally renowned performer and choreographer, Rohene Ward, a native of North Minneapolis.

Deneane Richburg on ice
Deneane Richburg on ice

A professional figure skater for more than 20 years, Richburg is introducing Quiet As Its Kept to the Twin Cities because she says that by examining out complex histories, we gain a greater understanding of Black communities in this country and the prevailing cultural ideologies. “When we understand our history, it’s easier to see where the individual ends and the ‘wearing’ of these cultural ideologies begins.”

Richburg is both an enthusiast and a student of her three loves: African American history, dance/ballet and theater. She has earned a bachelor’s degree in English and African American studies from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., a master’s degree in African American studies with a focus on contemporary African American Theater from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a master’s degree in Fine Art from Temple University in Philadelphia.

She was awarded a Horace J. Bond Fellowship and worked under Lou Bellamy, founder of Penumbra Theatre in Minneapolis, as a production assistant for one year. While working at Penumbra, Richburg honed her craft and her love of theater and production was born.

Opening night for Quiet As It’s Kept is Friday, May 1. The evening will begin with a reception at Victory 44 Cafe, 2203 44th Ave N. (at Penn Ave N.), Minneapolis at 5:30 pm. The opening night performance will begin at 7:30 pm at Victory Memorial Ice Arena, 1900 42nd Ave N, Minneapolis. On Saturday, May 2, there will be a 1 pm matinee, plus a 7:30 pm performance. Each performance will be followed by a 45-minute, post-performance discussion.

Quiet As It’s Kept will be performed for area high school students on April 30 and May 1 in the morning (scheduled times have yet to be determined). Following each morning performance, students will participate in a post-concert discussion, which will include the professional skaters and vocalist, and will help them explore their personal perspectives on our nation’s long history of racial oppression.

Call (651) 777-9119 or e-mail: info@brownbody.org for more questions about Quiet As It’s Kept.