In 2016, choreographer and educator, Suchi Branfman, began a five-year choreographic residency inside the California Rehabilitation Center, a medium-security state men’s prison in Norco, California. The project, dubbed “Dancing Through Prison Walls,” developed into a critical dialogue about freedom, confinement, and how we survive restriction, limitations, and denial of liberty through the act of dancing. The project abruptly ended in March 2020, when the California state prison system shut down programming and visitation due to Covid-19. The work was rapidly revised, and the incarcerated dancers began sending out written choreographies from their bunks to the outside world. The resulting collection of deeply imagined choreographic pieces, written between March and May of 2020, was dubbed Undanced Dances Through Prison Walls During a Pandemic.
Highlighting six dances written/choreographed inside the prison by Brandon Alexander, Richie Martinez, Landon Reynolds and Terry Sakamoto Jr., this event hosts a conversation and film of the work transformed into embodied dances in sites throughout the Santa Monica civic center area, highlighting the nation’s school to prison pipeline. With artistic direction by Suchi Branfman and cinematography by Tom Tsai, the work is narrated by Marc Antoni Charcas, Ernst Fenelon Jr, Richie Martinez and Romarilyn Ralston (all formerly incarcerated movers and organizers) and choreographically interpreted by Bernard Brown, Jay Carlon, Irvin Gonzalez, Kenji Igus, Bri Mims and Tom Tsai (all of whom joined Branfman dancing inside the prison.) Each entrusted with bringing one of the written dances to action, they are steeped in hip hop, tap, breaking, performance art, quebradita, spoken word, Bhutto and contemporary dance forms.
This project was made possible by Art of Recovery, an initiative of Santa Monica Cultural Affairs, santamonica.gov/arts/artofrecovery. @CityofSantaMonica