Keith Tyrone Williams, artistic director of the Grand Center Arts Academy’s Innervision Dance Theatre, is using dance as the vessel to bridge the gap between generations by way of black history with “The Ties The Bind.”
Williams, who conceived and directs the show, describes the production as a choreographed dramatic musical with dance as the anchor in the storytelling. The show will play at the Sun Theatre next weekend (May 6-7). Spoken word elements and a vocal performance by Tony Award-nominated Vivian Reed are also included in the piece.
“She’s such a powerhouse,” Williams said of Reed, whom he met on the international Broadway tour of “Bubbling Brown Sugar.”
“The Ties That Bind” features a young man from the present being transported to the past on what Williams calls a “sacred journey” to give him insight on the complex history of African Americans.
“I’ve been passionate about connecting the dots for young people,” Williams said. “Because too often young people separate their present day struggle from the past – and don’t feel that it is connected to their struggle or that we are embracing or understanding as far as what they are going through.”
He said that it’s not their fault that young people aren’t aware of their history.
“Part of the disconnect is that we haven’t been the best guides as far as helping them navigate through the detours of life,” Williams said.
Led by ancestors, the young man is taken on a “sacred journey.” “Our history is not rooted in slavery,” Williams said. “We come from kings and queens.”
While he starts from the beginning, Williams includes the difficult and painful elements.
“Any people that survive the Middle Passage and slavery – that’s a mighty strong people,” said Williams. “My thing is educating people – and not just African Americans – about the beautiful, powerful legacy that we have and how we’ve contributed to this fabric we call American history.”
The twist is that this young man goes back in time with a present-day mindset.
“We don’t take him back and say, ‘This is history.’ We say, ‘How would you function and survive in those real situations with your 2017 mentality?’” Williams said. “You often hear the young people say, ‘Oh no, there is no way I would do that.’ But people did what they did so that we as a people could survive. This show is about addressing things that systemically show up and teaching our young people how to navigate.”
The show will also give audiences an idea of the activism that took place in order for them to enjoy the freedoms they have become accustomed to in 2017. Williams uses his former teacher Katherine Dunham to illustrate the fight to end segregation.
“Ten years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on that bus, Katherine Dunham stood before an audience in Louisville, Kentucky in 1944 and told them, ‘Until people who look like me can sit next to people who look like you in this theater, we will not be performing here,’” Williams said.
Insight and inspiration were the main goal as he was creating “Ties That Bind.”
“I’m impassioned about legacy and history – and I’m bold enough to not look at my history with shame,” Williams said. “Was it painful? Yes. But we’ve come through it, and that’s a testament to who we are as a people.”
He hopes that his student performers and young people are encouraged to find strength and courage in their history – and that the elders see a reflection of themselves and the promise that lies within the next generation.
“Their struggle is real – and it is not separate from ours,” Williams said. “I want to show the young generation that they sit at the feet and stand on the shoulders of some mighty powerful people.”
The Innervision Dance Theatre production of “The Ties That Bind” will take place on Saturday, May 6 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 7 at 3 p.m. at The Sun Theater (3625 Grandel Square, St. Louis, MO 63108). For tickets, visit https:/www.eventbrite.com/e/the-ties-that-bind-tickets-32969383313?aff=es2.