Brittany Harlin brings her world premiere of Don’t Forget Your Mother June 6 and 8 to the 2019 Pivot Arts Festival. Alexa Erbach, Pivot Arts marketing manager, interviewed Harlin about the piece, its development and the exciting elements involved.
AE: You describe Don’t Forget Your Mother as a choreographic memoir dedicated to your mothers on Earth and ancestors beyond. How did the exploration of your own family history influence this new piece?
BH: Mostly through music. You can really paint the “where and when” of your family, based on what they listened to. With my mother it was funk and disco. With my grandmother it was Sam Cooke and gospel. With me it’s house, which comes from disco. Popular music is constantly inspired by funk and soul, so I like to follow music’s lineage to match up to my own.
AE: Much of your work seems to use dance as a means for spiritual expression, inclusivity and “upholding the integrity of hip hop’s socio-political movement.” Can you elaborate on your goals as an artist and explain how your performance fits into them?
BH: I’d like to start off by saying that for my personal journey, I don’t always have to have hip hop dance included to contribute to its movement. The fact that I am a product of the African Diaspora and was born into the full-blown cultural sweep of hip hop makes me a part of it. It probably makes you a part of it, too. It’s more than a kind of dance and music, it’s Black American culture recreating itself time and time again after our previous creations have been extracted and erased into so-called universality… It’s an amazing testament to our power of creativity, out of pure necessity, to rebuild our foundation wherever we newly stand.
My goal is to share my particular interpretation of what I’ve taken from the hip hop and street dance movement- mainly attribution and innovation- and present it in a truly cross-cultural concept: i.e. the relatively new-to-dance European concept of the stage. I don’t necessarily search for understanding or even approval from these two worlds, I only want to challenge people to sit in the uncertainty of what is called in front of them for an evening and to truly be present, without jumping to categorization.
AE: As a dancer, you incorporate various styles into your choreography (Hip Hop, Wacking, Funk, House, Modern). Where do you find inspiration, and can you tell us about some of the dancing we’ll be seeing?
BH: My inspiration started from my family. My sister, who is also a dancer, would dance around the house from right after school to well into night to 106 & Park and Soul Train on the weekends- with much commentary and nostalgic conversation coming from my parents! We were also in the dance ministry at our church in Wheaton. The amazing Ms. Woods would teach us not only modern-rooted movement, but also improvisation led by the “Holy Spirit”, which still leads my improvisation and freestyle today. Today I’m inspired by the street style scene worldwide. Whenever I make it to a battle, I come out inspired and challenged to delve deeper into the culture and my craft. The dance for Don’t Forget Your Mother will be largely improvisational, coming from street and club style-based dancers who were open enough to share their craft in a different context than where they usually would.
AE: Why is live music often an integral part of your work?
BH: At the Pivot Arts show there will be a special guest soloist, while the rest will be recorded, original music. Having the privilege to know so many talented musicians, also rooted in improvisation and the above-mentioned genres- it’s kind of like moving with another dancer. You still have to see each other and respond to each other in the moment, which breeds so much more creative potential than moving to premeditated music that belongs to someone who may never know you’ve danced to it.
AE: And finally…what’s one fun or unexpected fact most people don’t know about you?
BH: Most people don’t know that I’m a singer/songwriter! Any original music used to perform has been works-in-progress instrumentals of my upcoming albums. Recently I’ve been incorporating my singing into the work. Don’t Forget Your Mother will be no different and I’m so excited to share!
Don’t Forget Your Mother performs June 6 and 8! For information and to reserve your tickets visit pivotarts.org/project/dont-forget-your-mother.