NC Dance Festival 

Friday, Oct. 18 & Saturday, Oct. 19, various times, $15–$21

The Durham Arts Council (Fri.)

The Fruit (Sat.), Durham

The idea for a new dance work has to start somewhere. Most often, it’s with a choreographer who has an impulse or insight strong enough to drive them through months of exploration. Sometimes, though, creation needs a jumpstart from the outside.

Myra Weise manages museum services at Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art, but over the last three years, she’s also been helping local choreographers self-produce their work under the rubric of Proxemic Media—an appropriate name for her efforts to reduce the distance between performers and their dreams, and between artists and the public. During the prior two autumns, Weise produced a series of Third Friday showcases at Empower Dance Studio on Parrish Street. This year, she had a much bigger idea.

“Durham is home to two dozen murals,” she says. “What would happen if we bring them to life?”

That question gets its first answer Friday, when the NC Dance Festival presents Continuing to Tell during the first night of its two-evening stand in Durham. Based on the Durham Civil Rights Mural, the performance event will take place in front of it in the Morris Street parking lot adjacent to the Durham Arts Council on Friday night.   

Weise, whose history in dance involves professional training as a dancer and more than a decade of experience in arts administration, envisioned more than just a choreographic tableau vivant, animating artistic cityscapes. Live music was important. The projects also had to be interactive and extend the world of the murals out into their immediate environment.

“I wanted visual artists to play off the mural as more than a backdrop,” she says. “Essentially, they’d draw a ground mural that literally sets the stage for live performance.”

Meanwhile, the NC Dance Festival had been looking for more innovative ways to interact with the communities it visits during its annual state-wide tours. According to NC Dance Project executive director Anne Morris, taking dance out of traditional spaces and onto the streets was “a good way to link up with the downtown Durham community in a bigger way than we’ve been able to do before.”   

With production assistance from the festival and a grant from Downtown Durham Inc., Weise put a creative team together. Choreographer Kristin Taylor Duncan, the artistic director of Durham’s KT Collective, had collaborated in the past with Shana Tucker, a composer and cellist whose layered soundscapes added ambience and gravitas to Culture Mill’s June premiere of They Are All at ADF. Emerging painter and visual artist Cynelsa Broderick was tapped to create a large ground mural extending across the DAC parking lot, plus a border where the community can fill in a geometric pattern of diamonds with some three hundred multicolored sticks of sidewalk chalk. Sonic Pie Productions’ Tess Mangum Ocaña will handle lighting and sound design.

For Duncan, bringing to life a 2,400-foot mural covering more than a century of civil rights activism involved creating a series of vignettes illustrating historic episodes, including baptisms at St. Joseph’s AME Church (the present site of Hayti Heritage Center), the “secret” 1944 Duke/NCCU basketball game, the rise of Black Wall Street, and the 1943 arrest of high school student Doris Lyons, who refused to give up her seat on a Durham public bus. In one sequence, dancers will appear in costume as leaders stepping from the mural into the performance.

“The mural is a roadmap of monumental things that happened in our city,” says Tucker. “We’re sitting on a gold mine of history.”

In the festival’s main showcase the next night at The Fruit, other artists will also probe issues involving culture, history, and identity. Durham artist Megan Yankee’s excerpt from Qué gringa, que gringa, an evening-length work in progress, investigates what her Mestizx heritage looks and feels like in the current political climate. Burlington choreographer Vania Claiborne’s (Bro)tha/Brother examines friendship among black men, and Winston-Salem’s Kira Blazek-Ziaii uses humor to parse out independence and interdependence among women in Keep It Together. Durham choreographer Megan Ross’s playful To Meep Like a Peep and Greensboro’s Clarice Young rounds out the showcase.

The evening underlines NCDF’s increasing commitment to seek out fresh talent in recent years; all five acts are making their festival debuts.

“So many artists are coming to North Carolina with already impressive resumes,” Morris says. “We’re trying to be as conscious of them as we can, so we can support them and introduce them to new audiences.”

Comment on this story at

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.