BlakTinx Dance Festival in Phoenix showcases works by Black and Latinx choreographers, who bring their creativity to contemporary issues from Black Lives Matter to COVID-19.
PHOENIX, AZ—Latina choreographer Liliana Gomez stumbled onto information about a new dance festival in California several years ago and wondered whether she might be able to create a similar gathering in Arizona.
Today, she’s putting the final touches on preparations for the 2022 BlakTinx Dance Festival in Phoenix, where audiences can experience works by several Black and Latinx choreographers working in myriad styles of movement.
“I really felt called to do this,” recalls Gomez. “I wanted to bring the voices of Black and Latinx artists to the stage.”
Gomez drew inspiration from the original BlakTinx Dance Festival in Los Angeles, which was started by Latina dance artist Licia Perea in 2013. She collaborated with Perea to create the sister festival that premiered in Phoenix four years later.
Phoenix’s first iteration of the festival happened at the Helen K. Mason Center for the Performing Arts located slightly east of downtown Phoenix, which is home to one of the country’s oldest Black theater companies, Black Theatre Troupe.
For the 2017 festival, Gomez asked choreographers to explore what it means to be a dancer of color in Phoenix. This year, the show returns to the Helen K. Mason Center and several choreographers are showing works rooted in recent events.
“There’s some work about grief that’s really tied up with the pandemic and what people learned or unlearned during the past two years,” says Gomez. “There’s a lot of work about the Black Lives Matter movement and celebrating joy as a revolutionary act, and also the experience of being distant from family when all you need is to be loved and touched and connected.”
The Phoenix festival has evolved in other ways, according to Gomez.
In the beginning, the festival highlighted contemporary and modern dance. But now it reflects a broader creative landscape.
“This year we asked for Black and Latinx artists to submit work in whatever style or fusion or art form they wanted to use,” she says. “Each artist is getting to speak in their essential cultural voice.”
The festival will feature pieces choreographed by Erik Canales, Jenny Gerena, The Imposter, Isiah Johnson, Zakiya Johnson, Anthony James Kelly, Ruby Morales, and Esteban Rosales. The choreographers select the dancers who will perform their work.
In its first year, the Phoenix festival comprised just one performance. This year, it’ll include two evening performances and a matinée.
Melissa Dunmore, an Afro-Boricua performance artist based in Phoenix, will open the festival on Friday, July 8, with an original poem inspired in part by the artist statements from participating choreographers.
“It’s incredibly beautiful the way words can set up a scene and get audiences prepared for the work they’re about to experience,” reflects Gomez.
After the final performance on Sunday, July 10, Black poet Leah Marché will facilitate an on-stage question-and-answer session with several BlakTinx creatives. “We wanted to have a moderator who can really facilitate critical thought.”
This month’s festival marks a return to live performance, following two years of virtual events and last year’s pandemic pause.
Typically, choreographers are selected through an open call, but organizers took a different approach in light of COVID-19 impacts. For the 2022 festival, they invited choreographers from the virtual festivals of recent years to submit completed works never shown due to pandemic shutdowns.
In addition, they eliminated the submission fee and established professional development opportunities, such as offering professional headshots, videos of their pieces, and assistance with artist statements.
“I love this aspect of helping people flourish in their careers, instead of just having them show up and perform,” Gomez says.
According to Gomez, sister festivals may come to more cities in the future. “Our dream has always been to expand to a different state, and another dream is opening the call beyond Arizona.”
Amid all the small details, Gomez hasn’t forgotten the bigger picture.
“I remember a time when I was constantly getting asked to do projects and feeling like presenters needed to know that there was more than just me out there,” she says. “The festival is a way to show that.”
The BlakTinx Dance Festival is scheduled to take place July 8 through July 10, 2022 at the Helen K. Mason Center for the Performing Arts, 1333 East Washington Street in Phoenix. Performance times and ticket prices vary.