Full Circle Dance Company's new show HOME: Longing and Belonging, coming November 19-20 to Baltimore Theatre Project, will premiere When the Village Returns to the Yard, which centers on the homecoming tradition unique to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Choreographer Hope B. Byers is an alum of Southern University and A&M College, and several dancers cast in her new work are also HBCU alums. Byers drew on her own experiences and on the personal stories of these dancers to create a work that has levity and exuberance but that nevertheless stems from an act of resistance.
"The HBCU homecoming tradition offers a glimpse into the power of Black joy, unity, and excellence," Byers explains. "This especially hit home when, starting in early 2022, there was an uptick in bomb threats against HBCUs across the nation. Instilling fear in Black people and inflicting violence against Black communities has been one of the primary tools of white supremacy in America. HBCU institutions, students, and alumni demonstrate that in spite of the attacks made against us, we will rise."
When the Village Returns to the Yard features fast-paced, complex movement that is exciting both to watch and to perform. Byers, who often tackles emotionally difficult subject matter, found the rehearsal process for this new piece to be filled with laughter. "There's some intentional humor infused in the choreography," Byers says. "But it's been the random silliness that has been most joyful. When dancer Shaela Davis crumbled to the floor in giggles because she couldn't quite get a particular isolated neck movement, it was hilarious!"
As an artist, Byers is inspired by the stories that make up the Black experience in America. She says, "At my core, I'm a storyteller, and my desire is to spur thought, create awareness, prompt dialogue, and in some way inspire change. I hope the audience at the premiere will think about Black joy, unity, and excellence and about how these characteristics, exemplified through the HBCU homecoming tradition, contribute to a broader purpose of liberty."