There’s a strange combination of otherworldliness and intimacy that pervades Afro Punk Ballet. On one hand, the plot and staging is decidedly futuristic. The characters wear beautiful black spacesuit helmets as they interact with spirits under the light of two suns. On the other, for all of its science-fiction elements, the plot centers on a family struggling to come to terms with the actions and legacy of its patriarch. It’s a story that is relatable and incredibly moving. Though the two aspects might seem disparate, the writers and cast of Afro Punk Ballet have managed to create a compelling and unique production that truly thrives in that in-between.
The story of Afro Punk Ballet — which was written, produced and performed by members of Baltimore-based performance group Afro House — focuses on the scientist Levi (Jarrod Lee), who creates a second sun prior to the start of the first act. As the new sun’s rays cause unimaginable social and ecological damage, Levi’s wife, Makeeba (Adrienne Ivey) and daughters, Corfazia (Jocelyn Hunt) and Jakub (Alicia Williams), must not only deal with the threat of invasion but also come to terms with their new world and their father’s role in creating it.
One particularly interesting aspect of the recent production is the variety of ways its characters express themselves. There is very little, if any, dialogue, as the majority of the plot is conveyed through song. However, some performers alternated between singing and using musical instruments, shifting on and off-stage in order to keep the show’s rhythm going. One character, Jakub, does not even speak throughout the shoe. Instead, she dances around the stage, revealing the character solely through the movement of her body. Altogether, the diverse methods of storytelling and characterization come together to form something that is fascinating to behold.
Unsurprisingly, the musical aspects of the show were fantastic, bolstered by excellent performances by the cast. The show seemed to have a constant rhythm to it; there was almost always a beat pulsing through the stage and the rare moments of silence seemed all the more haunting by comparison. Furthermore, every member of the cast is a very talented singer, and they all delivered emotional performances that were still easy to understand and process.
The members of Levi’s family were particular standouts. Lee’s performance as Levi is incredibly heartbreaking, and he does a fantastic job of portraying a man who is all too aware of the pain and suffering that he has brought. Ivey is also excellent, especially during an extended scene toward the end of the production, where she perfectly walks the line between Makeeba’s anger at her husband and her grief for all that she’s lost.
Hunt’s performance as Corfazia is both sorrowful and dutiful. She is not only a girl trying to comprehend the actions of her father but also a warrior who must prepare to defend her nation against invasion. Hunt does an excellent job of exploring the nuance between the two roles that she plays.
Finally, Alicia Williams does a fantastic job with what I can only assume is one of the more difficult roles in the show. Again, her character is entirely silent, and all of her development and emotions are portrayed through dance. Despite the obvious difficulties of the role, Williams imbues the character with joy and curiosity, and Jakub’s journey through the narrative is as provoking and well defined as any of the other characters’.
The relationship between the two sisters is particularly strong. From their opening scene together, it is clear that Jakub and Corfazia care deeply for one another, despite their different styles of communication and the different paths that they take in life. Williams and Hunt really ground the relationship, making it one of the most moving aspects of the show.
Ultimately, the production of Afro Punk Ballet was only the first act of an ongoing saga, and it is difficult to tell how the show will grow from here. However, based on their current draft, Afro House has crafted an innovative tale that manages to combine a multitude of different storytelling styles into a cohesive and emotional whole, and I cannot help but look forward to whatever comes next.