Fall 2021 Artist-in-Residence

Five Black women dancers wearing white dresses are in mid-movement in an open grassy field. Five Black women dancers wearing white dresses are in mid-movement on an open beach under blue sky.INITIATION– IN LOVE SOLIDARITY

Dancer, choreographer, scholar, and educator Nailah Randall-Bellinger is in residence at Harvard Dance Center this fall creating a new work, titled Initiation– In Love Solidarity, and engaging the community in the process.

Initiation– In Love Solidarity is a choreographic narrative exploring the embodiment of the Middle Passage, and the resilience and evolving identities of women in the African diaspora. A film component of the work was created at historic sites in New England related to the transatlantic slave trade and emancipation. The imagery of the cowrie shell is present throughout, chosen as an emblem of the transformative identity of the Black female body.

The work is an invitation to enter a dialogue on the journey of African diasporic people, as it connects to the whole of humanity, through reflection, reclamation, and regeneration, moving from trauma to resilience in love solidarity. The film and live performance will be presented in various formats alongside discussions this fall.

Over the course of the semester, Randall-Bellinger has connected with Harvard fellows, scholars, and professors from across the university for illuminating and catalytic exchange. She has also visited credit courses in Theater, Dance & Media and History and African and African American Studies where students have had the opportunity to be in deep, transformative dialogue with the work. 

Initiation– In Love Solidarity is a commission of the Harvard University Committee on the Arts and was made possible with the support of the Johnson-Kulukundis Family President’s Fund for Arts at Harvard University. Additional support from Harvard Radcliffe Institute and the Presidential Initiative on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery.

Programmed Events on Campus 

*Please note that in-person Harvard Dance Center showings will require proof of vaccination at the door, or for those exempt, a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of attendance. Masks are required for all. Please read the full Harvard Dance Center COVID-19 Protocols for Audiences.  

Access Provided  

Audio description and closed captioning versions of the dance film will be provided on film screening days. ASL interpreting will be provided at the Smith Campus Center conversation on October 21 and at the Harvard Dance Center showing on November 13 at 4pm. Live closed captioning will also be provided for the live streams. For any other type of access needed, please contact Harvard Dance Center at dance@fas.harvard.edu

From the Creator, Nailah Randall-Bellinger:

Initiation- In Love Solidarity is a choreographic narrative that explores identity through a corporeal and collective consciousness. As an African American woman, I have chosen the cowrie shell as a cultural symbol throughout the work, referencing its usage as currency for the commodification of the Black body, as well as its symbol of wealth, fertility, and beauty. The dance specifically examines the transformative identity of the Black female body, both imposed and self-proclaimed, linked and represented through the cowrie shell.  

This dance narrative is about the collective-lived experience of my African ancestors, from the Middle Passage through an existence into a new space and time, charged with the mission of asserting a collective and evolved identity. The backdrop to the dance film captures the Atlantic Ocean at Ogunquit Beach and Green Acre, in Eliot Maine, from whence some of our ancestors landed in the new world. It is through their sea water baptism that we come to know their spirits and continue to receive their lessons of forgiveness, reclamation, creativity, and the resilience to begin anew. The film’s third site, The Robbins House, in Concord, MA, represents our self-determination through ownership of property. This idea of ownership, both of property and of self, leads to agency and a realization of Black identity. The benches on which the dancers find stillness, provide a place of refuge, reflection, and contemplation from which true emancipation can take place.

Above all, the dance is an act of self-love, self-reclamation, and resilience.  

Learn About the Historic Sites Used in the Dance Fillm of Initiation– In love Solidarity 

The Robbins House
Concord, Massachusetts
The first Black-owned residence in New England dating back to 1882. Originally owned by Caesar Robbins, a Revolutionary War Veteran and was kept in the family for 100 years. 

Ogunquit Beach
Town of Ogunquit, Maine
The area near the docking of slave ships during the 18th century transatlantic slave trade. 

Green Acre Baháʼí School
Elliot, Maine
Established by Sarah Farmer as an intellectual gathering space for progressive thinkers during the turn of the 20th century, it drew notable African American activists such as W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington.

Source Materials Used in the Research Process

Brown, V. (2020). Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War (Illustrated ed.). Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press.

DeFrantz, T. F., & Gonzalez, A. (2014). Black Performance Theory (Illustrated ed.). Duke University Press Books.

Gumpert, A., Washington Dc, T., von Kahler Gumpert, A., Bead Museum of Washington DC, T., Jackson, C. M. G., Springer, A., & Bead Museum (Washington). (2007). The Timeless Cowrie. Bead Museum of Washington DC.

Hartman, S. (2019). Study Guide: Lose Your Mother by Saidiya V. Hartman (Super Summary): A Journey Along The Atlantic Slave Route. Independently published

Morgan, J. L. (2021). Reckoning with Slavery: Gender, Kinship, and Capitalism in the Early Black Atlantic. Duke University Press Books.

Mustakeem, S. M. (2016). Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage (New Black Studies Series) (Illustrated ed.). University of Illinois Press.

Shiovitz, B. W. (2019). The Body, the Dance and the Text: Essays on Performance and the Margins of History. McFarland.

Solomon, R., Diggs, D., Hutson, W., & Snipes, J. (2020). The Deep. Gallery / Saga Press

Image Descriptions and Photo Credits


Five women of color wearing white dresses are in mid-movement in an open grassy field. In the foreground, one of the women sits on a light brown wooden bench. The dancers are Imani Deal, Patricka James, Jenny Oliver, Jeryl Palana, and Toni S. Singleton, at Green Acre Baháʼí School, Elliot, ME. Photo credit: Robert Bellinger

Five women of color wearing white dresses are in mid-movement on an open beach under blue sky. One dancer kneels in the sand, another raises her arms towards the sun. The dancers are Imani Deal, Patricka James, Jenny Oliver, Jeryl Palana, and Toni S. Singleton, at Ogunquit Beach, ME. Photo credit: Robert Bellinger