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W&M Premieres Original Work "Dance of the Orcas"

"We are a reflection of nature. Nature is a reflection of us. Together, we tell the story of the one," Writer and Director of "Dance of the Orcas" Omiyemi Artisia Green writes in the preface to her original work, a new film produced by William & Mary's and Christopher Newport University's Theatre and Dance Departments.

Inspired by the real-life story of Tahlequah, an orca who pushed her deceased 400lb baby calf-a girl-with her head, through the Pacific Northwest for 17 days, the choreoritual "Dance of the Orcas" takes a journey from grief to the freedom and redemption that comes from learning to let go.

Partnering with Green is Ann Mazzocca Bellecci, an associate professor of dance at CNU, who serves as choreographer for the film.

Using elements from the Afro-Cuban folkloric tradition - specifically from the Lucumí or Yoruba tradition, and blending them with more contemporary approaches to choreography. One portion of the show, called "The 17 Shifts", involves movements created outside of folkloric tradition, and is a representation of Tahlequah's mourning. But Bellecci blended this moving sequence with elements of nature, which tie the piece together.

"The phrases [of the sequence] were culled, however, from the foundational movement of spinal undulation representing water, flow, wave-like cycles, the passing of time, contemplation," she said of her choreography's inspiration.

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While the original live stage play, which premiered at the ASWAD Conference during the 2019 Commemoration, the film moved on-location to Buckroe Beach in Hampton to set the tone for the performance.

"The work, which deals heavily with ancestral retentions, was always intended to be performed on location at the beach," Green said. "Buckroe Beach is a significant location for me as I see it as a site of memory. Yearly ancestral remembrance tributes are held there."

The beach is also near Point Comfort, the historic location where the first enslaved Africans arrived and disembarked before heading to Jamestown Settlement. Another part of the beach was formerly the home of Bay Shore Hotel and Resort, a Black-owned hospitality and cultural offering which operated from 1890-1973.

Being immersed in nature for the shoot added another layer to the performance, said Bellecci of the scenery.

"The filming at Buckroe Beach allowed for a relationship with the environment, which had been imagined in the live performance and were now the elements of our set and complete environment," she said. "It was absolutely beautiful to be at the beach and to be doing this work from sunrise until the end of the day amidst the very elements the dancers were embodying and from which Tahlequah receives her strength."

The final film will be available to stream on-demand from April 29-May 2. Dance of the Orcas is produced by William & Mary Theatre in collaboration with the W&M Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation, Program in Africana Studies at William & Mary, Omiwerx and Theater CNU.


Streaming passes are available to the public for just $7. Visit wm.edu/boxoffice or call 757-221-2674 during box office hours to learn more.