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Portrait of an Artist: Dylan Richmond ’24

April 19, 2024

Amira Oguntoyinbo
BEARING WITNESS: Dylan Richmond speaks during his performance of "I Am Bearing Myself in the Mouth of the Sun." The one-time performance was last Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Pickard Theater.

Last Saturday, Dylan Richmond ’24 transformed Pickard Theater into a portal, inviting a packed crowd to join him in exploring an emergence out of oppression and toward joy. His performance, entitled “I am Bearing Myself in the Mouth of the Sun”, employed dance and poetry to explore the embodiment of Black and queer bodies in the culmination of Richmond’s honors project in the Department of Theater and Dance.

The night’s journey started with an immersive experience curated by Richmond that began as the audience entered Pickard. In the lobby, a screen displayed a home video of Richmond dancing as a young child. Friend and fellow dancer Gabrielle Waller-Whelan ’25 encouraged guests to jot down something that brings them joy on yellow pieces of paper. Ushers then guided the crowd through halls lined with Richmond’s poetry, through a tassel-draped entryway and up the stairs.

Included in the program’s unique collection of works serving as sources of inspiration was American poet and playwright Ntozake Shange’s concept of the choreopoem. Informed by Shange’s vision to combine poetry and movement, Richmond blended mediums of video, movement and poetry to explore his embodiment as a queer, Black man.

“I understand my movement as a pattern within a history of Black and queer bodies, as well as a deviation, ” Richmond wrote in his artist statement. “The way I arc, turn and even hold still is because of everything that shaped me and everything I shape; because of the very first breath I took, the last time I walked alone and felt free, the way I picked the fruit in my backyard, the wonder I felt at a black bird which led me to read Maya Angelou when I needed her most.”

Amira Oguntoyinbo
Pictured is part seven of Richmond's eight-part honors thesis entitled "Yellow." The piece begins with a yellow piece of fabric falling from above. Throughout it, Richmond interacts with and wears the fabric as a robe, gown and cape.

After performing an early iteration of the piece in December, Richmond worked to contextualize his movement through the incorporation of theory from his research as well as pieces of his lived experience. Through the addition of four sections to the initial version, the eight-part performance spanned generations and dimensions.

Mei Bock ’24, Richmond’s friend and the artist behind the program’s cover art, remarked on the growth of the work throughout its development.

“I attended the performance in December, and it prepared me for the aspect of this performance where I knew I was going to be witnessing a piece that was like nothing I have ever experienced before,” Bock said. “Seeing it this time, I still felt that same mind-blown awe, and I could sense how much work he had done to forge the entire performance as a cohesive emotional arc.”

One of the sections added to the piece after the first iteration, “Lantern Laws,” referenced an April 1731 law Richmond encountered in his research that required non-white people walking alone at night in colonial New York City to carry a lantern. The words of this law echoed throughout the theater as Dylan’s silhouette, holding a lantern, fled through the audience. Richmond emphasized that the seeds of context from his research were instrumental in understanding the relationship between the personal and political in his performance.

“I’m trying to engage the audience, and frankly myself, with very real lived experiences that exist in our present moment, that ranges from surveillance and spectatorship and what it means to be a Black body in a white space, the idea of double consciousness, the awareness of being seen through this gaze or this veil,” Richmond said. “Everything that I talked about in my inspirations and my theory you can apply to things I was thinking about and living through.”

A central component of Richmond’s piece involved wrestling with a red fabric that viscerally gave shape to a violent and oppressive force. Richmond eventually shared his struggle with the fabric with two other dancers. Gabby Phillips ’24 danced alongside Richmond and Fernanda Rodas ’27 at the end of this section and expressed the emotional weight of the performance.

“There was a very intentional emotion that we wanted the red fabric to evoke. We had a lot of freedom about what that oppression would represent to us, what that should be like, feel in our bodies,” Phillips said. “After a while, I started treating it as something heavy and burdening, something difficult to carry. In order to really embody that, I had to tap into some things that I’ve experienced in the past and it became a very emotional experience and performing it.”

As Richmond was reckoning with this symbolic red fabric, Waller-Whelan emerged from the audience and placed a bowl on the stage containing the yellow pieces of joy written by the audience prior to the performance. Richmond then took a translucent, shimmery shirt from the bowl and gently pulled it over his head.

“When he pulled out that shirt from that bowl of all of the notes of what makes people happy, he was able to tap into that joy that other people have and were giving and sharing in their everyday life,” Phillips said.

From that moment, Richmond catapulted into a joyful, healing section of the dance. Assistant Professor of Dance Adanna Kai Jones, Richmond’s honors advisor, emphasized the role of the community behind Richmond’s journey to joy, both on and off the stage.

“There’s one person on the stage at points, sometimes there’s five people on the stage at points. But in every single moment there’s a sense of ‘Somebody helped me to get here’, even if it’s people that [he’s] never met because he’s referring back to the 1800s,” Jones said. “When they say it takes a village, I see it in him. I see all the ways people show up for him because he’s deserving, he’s worthy and he’s committed.… So it’s also a testament to Dylan’s inner light and I think it was great that he performed the journey to expressing and showing his inner light.”

Richmond hopes that his journey throughout the course of the work left the audience thinking about love as an enduring force. The title of the performance, “I am Bearing Myself in the Mouth of the Sun,” inspired by a June Jordan poem, directly speaks to the power of love in the face of oppression.

“If you think about my title ‘to bear’ yourself … A part of the program includes definitions of ‘bear’. One of them is to endure. How do you continue this work by enduring and persevering?” Richmond said. “How are we going to move forward and continue the work of using love as the force? Love as a life force. Loving each other, loving yourself as a way to stop violence. How to use love to live through and endure violence.”




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