Okwui Okpokwasili

Okwui Okpokwasili is a performer and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. She works across performance disciplines and genres. 

She wrote, choreographed and performed in a run of her original work, Pent-Up: A Revenge Dance at PS 122 for which she received a 2010 Bessie Award for Production. Described as “ruthlessly clean and clever” by Helen Shaw of Time Out NY, Pent-Up is an exploration of cross cultural collisions. A mother and daughter attempt to construct identity out of fragments and memory, through competing narratives and broken gestures. The New York Times has described her as “incandescent”. 

Her work in multidisciplinary performance is best exemplified by her ongoing artistic collaboration with Ralph Lemon, the Bessie Award winning Artistic Director of Cross Performance. She just completed the 2010 tour of his latest work How Can You Stay… In January of 2011 performed a duet with Ralph in the Atrium at MOMA as part of the exhibit , On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century. Okwui also received a Bessie Award for her performance in the final part of Ralph Lemon’s Geography Trilogy, Come Home, Charley Patton

For the 2008 Prelude Festival , she and frequent collaborator Peter Born created an installation where she placed herself in a pitch dark box that mimicked the makeshift shacks of roadside dwellers in Nigeria. Audience members were led inside one at a time to be with her alone in complete darkness as a narrative unfolded onstage about a missionary’s failed conversion effort and entanglements in a village in West Africa. This installation was concerned with disrupting received narratives about Africa, and the persistence of the conflation of fetish objects and African bodies in the Western imagination. They attempted to replace the act of looking at an “African” object with the act of breathing with an unknown, unseen figure in the darkness and making a space for the viewer’s inward reflection. This also served as an extension of thematic concerns surrounding Pent-Up: A Revenge Dance

She also performed in the Dean Moss/Laylah Ali collaboration, Figures on a Field, which premiered at the Kitchen in the spring of 2005, and went on to Mass MoCA in 2006. She was an early collaborator on Democracy in America, which premiered at PS 122 in 2007 under the direction of Annie Dorsen, director of the critically acclaimed Passing Strange

In 2006 she was selected as a FUSED- French US Exchange in Dance - artist, where she was given a three month residency to develop Pent-Up: A Revenge Dance through Centre National de la Danse in Pantin, Paris. 

Acting roles in NYC include: “Leda” in SOUNDING directed by Kristin Marting at HERE Arts Center, “Goneril” in Young Jean Lee’s LEAR at Soho Rep, “Joan” in JOAN DARK co-produced by The Goodman Theater and the Linz 2009 European Capital of Culture, “Long Legged Ballerina” in Richard Foreman’s Maria Del Bosco, "Madame Laramie" in Richard Maxwell’s Cowboys and Indians, “Hilde” in Nomad Theatrical Company’s The Master Builder under the direction of Victoria Pero and “Othello” in Donna Linderman’s Oth at Dixon Place. In Williamstown Theater Festival’s Act I Company, she played “Constance Fletcher” in Gertrude Stein’s The Mother of Us All. Film roles include “O” in Knut Asdam’s ABYSS, the “Nigerian Tour Guide” in Sydney Pollack’s The Interpreter , “Malika” in Lasse Hallstrom’s 2006 release The Hoax and CGI stuntwork as one of the infected in Will Smith’s I Am Legend.

Choreographic Fellow | November 2 -20, 2012

Bronx Gothic

Okwui Okpokwasili, who had been in residence previously with Ralph Lemon, returned to MANCC as a Choreographic Fellow to develop a new performance piece framed within both an oral storytelling tradition that recalls the griot of West Africa and Victorian gothic novels.  While in residence, she explored the following thematic questions: assumptions and expectations that come with an “African” or “African American” subject/body, the possibilities of interchange between the performer and audience, how the performance space could be designed to reflect an intimacy that is inviting but slightly unsettling, and the ways in which she might build a one woman performance piece that interrogates the possibilities and the limitations of this particular framework.

Okpokwasili used the residency to generate a movement vocabulary with support from artist and producer Onome Ekeh, who served as an advisor during the residency. Along with developing the physicality of the piece, she also met with FSU Religion scholar, Dr. Joseph Hellweg to examine the work of Malian artist Rokia Traore, investigating the score of songs and sound that shape the world of the piece.  FSU School of Dance students were invited to observe and discuss the new work towards the end of the residency.

  • West African Griot research
  • Okpokwasili discusses her project with FSU Religion scholar Dr. Joseph Hellweg
  • Advisor Onome Ekeh and Okpokwasili
  • Collaborator Peter Born
  • Okwui Okpokwasili
  • Okwui Okpokwasili
  • Okwui Okpokwasili
  • Okwui Okpokwasili
  • Okwui Okpokwasili shares work with FSU students
  • Okwui Okpokwasili
  • Okwui Okpokwasili
  • Okwui Okpokwasili
  • Okwui Okpokwasili performs at FSU School of Dance Forum
Collaborators in Residence: Peter Born [filmmaker/videographer], Onome Ekeh [advisor]. Slideshow photos by Chris Cameron and Al Hall.

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