Gullah culture, heritage focus of BCC's Fall Cultural Arts Series

August 20, 2013  

Mary Schott

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The exploration of Gullah culture is the focus of the Fall Cultural Arts Series at the Purdue University Black Cultural Center.

"Gullah Folklore: (Re)Membering Our Pathways through Low Country Legacies," will feature a research tour to the South Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands, the world premiere of a dance project and speakers, music and other performances.

"The strongest retention of African-American heritage is in the South Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands," said Renee Thomas, director of the BCC. "The origin of the Gullah culture is connected to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Many enslaved Africans labored on the sea island rice plantations, lived for several centuries in relative isolation and maintained strong community life. That allowed them to preserve more of their African culture than any other group of blacks in the U.S."

Students in the BCC's performing arts ensembles will travel to Savannah, Ga., and St. Helena Island, S.C., on Oct. 4-8 in a cultural immersion experience to learn about preservation of the Gullah heritage through music, poetry, dance and dramatization of rituals that shape Gullah culture.

Events on campus also will explore Gullah heritage.

Another highlight of the fall series will be Deeply Rooted Dance Theater's Oct. 30 world premiere of "Generations 2013 – RE:NEW, RE:VIVE, RE:IMAGINE" at Loeb Playhouse. "Generations 2013" is a five-year multigenerational repertory project featuring classics and new works by emerging and established choreographers.

"I'm most excited about them coming here," Thomas said of the dance company that is based in Chicago and tours internationally. "This company is steeped in the African-American aesthetic, and they will work with the Hall of Music technical support team in an incubation of sorts for them to get ready to perform and for their five-year project.

"The group has ties to Purdue. Their founding director was Kevin Iega Jeff, who is artist-in-residence for the BCC's Jahari Dance Troupe. DRDT members also will present a master dance class that will be open to the general public."

The series also offers several other events. They all are free and open to the public, unless otherwise noted. Upcoming events include:

* Aug. 22. 4-6 p.m. Black Cultural Center, 1100 Third St. 15th annual Boilerfest New Student Orientation. The new student orientation festival introduces new students to the Black Cultural Center, campus leaders, various student organizations and support services. The event will feature live entertainment by the center's Performing Arts Ensembles.

* Sept. 5. Black Cultural Center, 1100 Third St. "Dream Weaving Gullah Stories and Songs," featuring Ron and Natalie Daise. A presentation of the customs, beliefs, folkways, language and heritage of the Gullah people.

* Sept. 7. Black Cultural Center, 1100 Third St. "Antonio Zamora: Jazz Jubilee for Children, Parents and the Public." The BCC honors Zamora, its director emeritus, and celebrates the Purdue football team's Band Day with jazz. Jazz will be linked to the Gullah musical legacy through vocals, musical movement and storytelling.

* Sept. 19. 7 p.m. Elliott Hall of Music.  Neil de Grasse Tyson will present "This Just in: Latest Discoveries in the Universe." Tyson, an astrophysicist and science communicator, is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. He also is a member of NASA's advisory council. From 2006-11 he hosted the science show "NOVA ScienceNow" on PBS. He also has been a guest on "The Daily Show," "The Colbert Report," "Real Time with Bill Maher," and "Jeopardy!"  

* Sept. 27-29. Black Cultural Center, 1100 Third St. Purdue Homecoming. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. will celebrate its 100th anniversary with "Blast from the Past." The weekend will include a tailgate party, annual meeting, Jabberwock party and the Northern Illinois-Purdue football game on Sept. 28.

* Oct. 15. 2 p.m. at the Black Cultural Center, 7 p.m. at University Residences. BCC Alumni Series featuring visual artist LaToya Hobbs and adinkra stamping workshops. The workshops will explore the artistic tradition of adinkra found throughout Ghana. Participants will learn about different adinkra symbols, their meanings and work with Hobbs to design an adinkra print to take home.

* Oct. 25-26. 7 p.m. Black Cultural Center, 1100 Third St. BCC Coffee House featuring the performing arts ensembles.

* Oct. 30. 7 p.m. Loeb Playhouse Theatre in Stewart Center. World premiere of Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre's "Generations 2013 – RE:NEW, RE:VIVE, RE:IMAGINE." In addition to the concert, at 7 p.m. Oct. 29, members of Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre will present a master dance class that will be open to the public.

* Nov. 5. 7 p.m. Hillenbrand Hall. Screening of the film "Daughters of the Dust," a drama set in 1902 that follows a black family, the descendants of West African slaves who live in communities off the Carolina coast. Gulah-Low Country cuisine will be offered by Housing and Food Services.

* Nov. 14. 7:30 p.m. Purdue Memorial Union South Ballroom. "Cummings-Perrucci Lecture on Class, Race and Gender Inequality: Michelle Alexander discusses mass incarceration as the new Jim Crow." Alexander, an associate professor of law at Ohio State University, is the author of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness." The book won the 2011 NAACP Image Award for best nonfiction and also has been featured on national radio and television, including MSNBC, NPR, "Bill Moyers Journal," the "Tavis Smiley Show," C-SPAN and "Washington Journal." Alexander also holds a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. She served as director of the Racial Justice Project of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and also directed the Civil Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School, of which she is a graduate.

* Dec. 6.  7 p.m. Loeb Playhouse in Stewart Center. Cultural Arts Festival. The festival is the culmination of the fall arts series and features the BCC Performing Arts Ensembles. Admission is $7 for the general public, $7 and $5 for Purdue students.

Writer: Greg McClure, 765-496-9711, 

Source: Renee Thomas, 765-494-3091,

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