Welela Kindred - Exploring The Legacy of James Baldwin Via Dance

Weléla Mar Kindred has been a friend for a few years now. She has a great, peaceful energy about her- a gentleness that draws you in. Welela also lives in close tune with other people and the earth, she is a free-spirit of the best variety. It has been a great pleasure to get to know her during my stays in Paris, and I am excited to feature her, and let her share a bit about what she is dreaming up. I sat down the other day to ask her a few questions... 


What are you creating? 

I am creating and choreographing a dance piece entitled: James Baldwin's Nigger (Another Country). And by the time this is all over, I'm sure it will be creating me. 

Can you describe the feel and the experience you are crafting?

It's such a mystery when I do new dance work, I can see it all in my mind before it is performed, but really that is not reality. My perspective that is. It is just one aspect of what could happen on the evening of the performance. I don't like to create perfection, sometimes I prefer the work to be done very casually. The movement and emotion will speak for itself. Dance is not like writing text, it is so ephemeral, dealing with cells, time, with other bodies - I always feel like God's vessel.

What are the origins of your project?

I've been researching Baldwin's work for years. Happily a student of his novels and essays. I did my first ballet based on his book "Another Country," in Paris in 2009, wrote / produced, choreographed it, had a live jazz band playing Miles Davis (circa 1960's), a documentary was being filmed and for some reason we could not get it off the ground. It was days before opening night, and the entire production just unraveled to nothing.

The first time I read "Another Country," I was in Los Angeles, my home winter 1998 - I was shooting a lot of photography of the homeless downtown, finding my way in / out of California history and I was writing new poemes, taking poetry really seriously at the time. All the while dance took a back seat because I had injured my hamstring. Leihmert Park writer's were in my circle, UCLA was where I was taking night classes in writing - I saw the book cover and just knew that book was for me. I read the first chapter, I could not believe this man (Baldwin) was about to kill his protagonist within the first 50 pages!.

The talent of his writing, I will not even discuss because so many have done it well, but I will say that his writing is comforting and clear there is no other like him. He goes straight to the human heart.

Mr. Baldwin's writing style and eloquence of depicting current times is breathtaking. From that moment after reading Another Country I somehow kept that copy with me for years. And it became the only book other than my Bible (LOL) I ever carry with me when I move to another country, city or house. I never do not have that novel with me. It's like my social diary of culture. It's highlighted, (my newest version) and written in. My last copy I left in New York prior to moving to Paris to convince myself I might move back. But alas, here I sit in Paris 6 years later, and my latest copy of the book sits in my flat. 


Why are you creating this?

To do another dance work inspired by  James Baldwin is a honor. This piece screams relevance. My days this year have been spent trying to mourn the last black body taken by police, and before I can even get through that process or even confront my own demons, another terrible situation happens. The terror, the pain, the revenge, the forgiveness is so in my body, that I don't know what 's going to happen on the 11th, but I do know it's going to be raw.

Mr. Baldwin said so much that I wish he were now to help put these situations in America into perspective, to debate the dogs of conservatism and bring our lives into clear view. that is why I am doing it. I was also invited by the James Baldwin collective in Paris to present this work, and I also have the blessings from the James Baldwin estate.

What do you see in the world around you?

What I see in the world around me right now are people without knowledge of history or the past, a grave deception of technology if you will, but i also see people trying their best. trying to balance all the details of the world. My main observation - is this "new" time in human history where philosophically speaking we are losing a sense of true intimacy yet never has there been a time of such transparency. However, dare I say transparency, it's not real disclosure we are seeing. 

Most captured moments we see by cameras and short texts, we see in social media society (social society) is a lie, so then we not only have to translate authentic emotions of the organic world where intimacy is living and breathing, but now we have this social world of power structures, a world where the language and rules are being made up as we go along, the human heart and body are really not built for this.  It's just a lot for the mind to deal with, but most importantly the human heart is going through so much information, relationships and personal concepts so fast. 

I don't know how much longer we can survive like this. I miss truly seeing people you know? My theater culture is so deeply rooted in me, I don't really do technology unless I have to. I feel things, I say things that may hurt, I forgive and asked to be forgiven, I listen to the human voice, I like to see one's eyes... living day and night behind a computer or phone is not my thing. I'm not a technology hater- but I sense that this world needs balance, prayer and the human touch - not another app.

The dissection of ethno-research and the body is a task, the Kenyan incident, Charlie Hebdo, and now after the Charleston shooting I realized that conflict choreography is real. Social interaction between the cultures is such a dance right now.

People are completely out of their bodies, and living in a dream world. Out of touch for real!

We have to delve into the civil freedoms which have always been in question, by our country (America). We (as slaves were bought, a bill of sale - a transaction) were bought /brought to this country 400 years ago, and these incidents are still happening? This country and the rest of the world must question every moral fiber of its political wound, and honestly I don't know how to interrogate that. I think all of my life I have tried to answer these questions along with many other thinkers and artists - we tried with Huey P. Newton, Dr. King and Malcolm X,  and at the risk at sounding completely ignorant they gave their lives and I don't know if they had the all the answers. How low must a society get before it destroys the very population which created it?

You can see the live performance... "JAMES BALDWIN, LE GRAND TÉMOIN" 18h30 du 1er au 11 juillet au Centre National de Jazz Dance Rick Odums 54 rue de Clichy Paris 9e métro Liège ou Place de Clichy. 

Also check out this lecture by James Baldwin, which served as a key inspiration for this piece. 


Jonathan Randall Grant // Culture Keeper