Dancer-choreographer-teacher Onye Ozuzu, Dean of the Columbia College Chicago School of Fine and Performing Arts and former Chair of the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, has received a 2018 Joyce Award from the Joyce Foundation in Chicago. The $50,000 award is shared with Chicago’s cutting-edge Links Hall to support the commission of a new work by Ozuzu called Project Tool. The commission will survey histories of black migration and the connections between Chicago, Louisiana, and Haiti by examining the ways that labor shapes the movement of a people over time, space, and geography. Project Tool grew out of Ozuzu’s contemplation of experiences as a child being charged with household chores while growing up in Ohio (the birthplace of her American Mennonite mother) and during years living as a family in Nigeria, West Africa (the birthplace of her father).
Project Tool is a durational performance installation that integrates woodworking improvisation and performance installation. Created in collaboration with dancers, visual and sound artists, sculptors, and an interior architect, Project Tool explores the interrelationships between body, task and tool as an improvisational landscape to isolate and identify the actions, techniques, qualities, and capacities of the body involved in the act of building and working with tools. Project Tool is creating modular dance with sprung wood floor sections that can be arranged and configured in numerous ways to transform any and every place into spaces where dance can happen. The act of building the floors will explore the use of tools as if they are partners in a dance with the body. With this project, Ozuzu will craft a live performance that is meaningful to watch, think, and talk about while also leaving behind a physical artifact, a resource that can be used by dancers ongoing. Links Hall will produce Project Platform engagements for Project Tool‘s live performances as mini festivals that will showcase dance that is thriving in communities all over the city of Chicago as well as in New Orleans and Haiti.
The project is being realized in collaboration with a team of artists and producers that includes dancers Keyierra Collins ’16, a graduate of the Dance Center’s BA Program in Dance; Keisha Bennett, a student in the Dance Department’s BFA Program in Dance; and Jovan Landry ’14, a graduate of Columbia College Chicago’s film and video program. The design/woodwork and installation component of the project involves the participation of Petra Probstner, a teacher of interior architecture in the Columbia College Chicago Design Department, and the Design Department’s Director of Facilities Christopher Kerr and the team in the 10th floor Fabrication Facility at Columbia College Chicago.
“The support that has poured forth for Project Tool has been a profound affirmation that there are many of us who need to respond to the urgencies of being human and remaining humane in this time with hands on, body engaged, productive radical action,” says Ozuzu. “We are dancers. We affirm that to move is to know. Our bodies embody the knowledge of the humans we have descended from. We build our own floors in order to know our full selves and to stand, and dance our own ground.”
The Joyce Foundation is a nonpartisan, private charitable foundation that supports evidence-informed policies to improve quality of life, promote safe and healthy communities, and build a just society for the people of the Great Lakes region. The foundation makes grants with the intent to secure a more prosperous and equitable future for the Great Lakes region by supporting the next generation of its citizens while advancing racial equity and economic mobility.
Started in 2003, the Joyce Awards is the only regional program dedicated to supporting artists of color in major Great Lakes cities with the goal of elevating their visibility and recognition in their craft. A distinctive feature of the Joyce Awards is the call for commissioned artists and their host institutions to include a robust community engagement plan as a main component of their projects.
“We are thrilled to support and celebrate the work of Onye Ozuzu and Links Hall. Both artist and organization have taken on important leadership roles in Chicago’s dance and performance community. What stands out about this project is the two-fold work it does in linking the histories of Haiti, Chicago, and New Orleans; and in connecting ideas of how the body moves at labor to how the body moves in dance,” says Tracie D. Hall, Culture Program Director at the Joyce Foundation. “This kind of investigation and innovative approach to the making of work has come, for me, to distinguish Joyce Award winners.”
As reported previously in this blog, Ozuzu’s Project Tool collaboration with Links Hall also received a 2017/18 Creation & Development Fund award from the National Performance Network. The project has also received support from the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), 3Arts, Rebuild Foundation, and Columbia College Chicago.