Marjani Forte-Saunders

Marjani Forté-Saunders is a choreographer & performer based in NYC and also Northwest Pasadena, CA where she is Co-Director of the Alkebulan Cultural Center, and previously co-founded LOVE|Forté A COLLECTIVE with Nia Love.  She is one of twenty-one Black Womyn and Gender Non-Conforming artists curated by Eva Yaa Asantewaa, now operating as the collective Skeleton Architecture, to receive the 2017 Bessie Award for Outstanding Performance. Forté-Saunders is also an Inaugural recipient of the UBW Choreographic Center Fellowship and a 2014 Princess Grace Choreography Fellowship awardee. Her work has been presented widely across New York City and was incubated in residencies at Brooklyn Arts Exchange, Movement Research, Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, Danspace Project/St Mark’s Church, Gibney Dance, Queensborough College, and, most recently, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Extended Life Residency. Forté-Saunders’ work continues to tour internationally and works in collaboration with communities.

As an extension of her choreography, and with support from the SURDNA Foundation Thriving Cultures Grant, Forté-Saunders curated a three-month exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Art in Brooklyn, NY titled being Here… in Memory. The three-month exhibit housed the work of four multi-media and design artists, and partnered with neighboring Brooklyn-based organizations offering workshops in creative writing, healing practices, and embodied storytelling for teen artists. Marjani spent nearly four years steeped in a study of trauma and its historic impact on systematically  oppressed communities and bodies. This study resulted in a trilogy of works titled Here…, being Here…, and being Here…/this time. The latter was developed within a Director’s Choice Dance In Process Residency at the Gibney Dance/Agnes Varis Performance Lab in New York in May 2015.

Previously Forté-Saunders was as a touring artist for five years, with Urban Bush Women Dance Company (UBW). During this time she was a part of the original cast of UBW’s collaboration with the Compagnie Jant-Bi of Senegal, and one of two artists ever to perform Blondell Cumming’s American Masterpiece Chicken Soup. She continues to be a member of Urban Bush Women’s BOLD Teaching Network, offering UBWs unique approach to dance training and community engagement. As a teaching artist, Forté-Saunders has served as an Adjunct Lecturer, teaching Modern Contemporary Technique at Hunter College City University of New York, and as a Guest Lecturer/Choreographer at Princeton University, Bard College, and at the Yale School of Acting Graduate Program teaching practices in Embodied Storytelling.

Saunders has worked with Sundance Award Winning director Kahlil Joseph as a choreographer on his short film PROCESS, as a movement coach on his Pantene ProV “Strong Is Beautiful” Commercial, and on his recent video installation FLYPAPER at the New Museum featuring Ben Vereen and StoryBoard P.

With deep gratitude, Forté-Saunders mobilizes her work while honoring that it stems from being born in and having engaged with culturally rich, vibrant, historic, and politically charged communities.

Memoirs of a… Unicorn has been supported by the MAP Fund, Jerome Foundation, and Princess Grace Special Projects Award, and most recently was commissioned by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Extended Life Residency - a co-commission with New York Live Arts presenting November 15-19 2017, offsite at the artist-run basement/warehouse space, Collapsable Hole.

UBW Partnership Fellow | Site Visit March 20 - 22, 2018 // August 26 - September 5, 2018

Memoirs of a...Unicorn

Marjani Forté-Saunders and sound designer Everett Saunders came to MANCC for a post-production residency to revisit and restructure their work Memoirs of a...Unicorn. Inspired by her father, a sci-fi enthusiast, and the simultaneous events of becoming pregnant with her son and the murder of Eric Garner, Forté-Saunders poses a set of questions about the impact of historic inequities on families, children, and our collective futures.

Forté-Saunders writes “there are so many stories left behind in the arduous journeys of migration, immigration, and surviving legitimized, systemic violence and oppression … if we knew the stories of our forebears how might we ‘fly’ differently?” Memoirs of a...Unicorn will weave historic and personal narratives into an embodied tale of fragmented histories, abiding love, and metaphysical warriorship.

Forté-Saunders came to Tallahassee for a 2.5 day site visit in March 2018, during which she met with cultural leaders from the African-Caribbean Dance Theatre, Florida Folklife Program, Mitchell Young Anderson Museum (Thomasville, GA), John G. Riley House, FAMU Black Archives, and 621 Gallery, with the connecting support of dancemaker, cultural activist and Tallahassee resident Millicent Johnnie.

While in residence, Forté-Saunders furthered the dramaturgical elements of the piece, an evening-length solo, with mentorship from Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, renowned choreographer/founder of Urban Bush Women and FSU’s Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Dance. Composer Everett Saunders continued refinement of the sound score for the work, and was mentored by FSU’s Associate Professor, Douglas Corbin, who has worked with Twyla Tharp, Merce Cunningham, American Ballet Theatre, and the Ailey School, and has made dozens of recordings for dance in the U.S. and Europe. In addition, Forté-Saunders explored creating more portable set structures for touring while at MANCC.

Forté-Saunders shared her work with Florida State University students and faculty as well as the Tallahassee community during multiple showings both on the FSU campus and at Tallahassee’s 621 Gallery. Forté-Saunders also taught a master class at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), considered a premiere school among historically black colleges and universities in the U.S..

As a part of MANCC’s Embedded Writers Initiative, Forté-Saunders and her collaborators were joined by writer and Doris Duke Performing Artist Sharon Bridgforth.  Funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, this initiative is designed to support the re-imagining of dance writing conventions in order to better respond to and engage with a wider range of ever-evolving contemporary forms. Additionally, funds were provided by the Sustainable Arts Foundation to support Forté-Saunders as a parent artist.

This residency represents the start of a new partnership program with the Urban Bush Women Choreographic Center Initiative’s (CCI) Choreographic Fellowship program. CCI utilizes a two-pronged approach that advances the work of individual women choreographers from the African Diaspora while bringing about systemic change in the field of dance. As part of this partnership, three UBW Choreographic Fellows conduct pre-residency site visits to MANCC followed by creative residencies, supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 


  • Forté-Saunders
  • Forté-Saunders
  • Forté-Saunders with FSU student Kentoria Earle
  • Forté-Saunders works on a set piece with Nadia Tykulsker
  • Forté-Saunders, Tykulsker and Everett Saunders
  • FSU Professor Doug Corbin with Saunders
  • <i>Memoirs of a...Unicorn</i>
  • <i>Memoirs of a...Unicorn</i>
  • Sharon Bridgforth, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and Doug Corbin
  • <i>Memoirs of a...Unicorn</i>
  • <i>Memoirs of a...Unicorn</i>
  • Sharon Bridgforth
  • <i>Memoirs of a...Unicorn</i>
  • Marjani Forté-Saunders
  • Forté-Saunders speaks to FSU students
  • Forté-Saunders, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Doug Corbin and Sharon Bridgforth
  • Forté-Saunders and Sharon Bridgforth
  • Forté-Saunders at 621 Gallery
  • Gylbert Coker, Executive Director of the Mitchell Young Anderson Museum
  • Forté-Saunders and Saunders tour the Mitchell Young Anderson Museum
  • Larry Davis shares the history of the schoolhouse at the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in<br>Thomasville, GA
  • Forté-Saunders talks with FSU student Kentoria Earle
  • Artists visit Gwen Welliver and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar's Directing class
  • Forté-Saunders talks to FSU students
  • Forté-Saunders teaches class at FAMU
  • <i>Memoirs of a...Unicorn</i> showing
  • Carla Peterson and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar
  • Baba Olu Segun
  • <i>Memoirs of a...Unicorn</i> showing
  • <i>Memoirs of a...Unicorn</i> showing
  • <i>Memoirs of a...Unicorn</i> showing
  • <i>Memoirs of a...Unicorn</i> showing
  • <i>Memoirs of a...Unicorn</i> showing
  • <i>Memoirs of a...Unicorn</i> showing
  • <i>Memoirs of a...Unicorn</i> showing
  • <i>Memoirs of a...Unicorn</i> showing
  • <i>Memoirs of a...Unicorn</i> showing
  • <i>Memoirs of a...Unicorn</i> showing
  • <i>Memoirs of a...Unicorn</i> post show discussion

Collaborators in Residence: Everett Saunders [sound designer], Meena Murugesan [Videographer], Nadia Tykulsker [Manager], Sharon Bridgforth [Writer]

Featured Artist

Faye Driscoll

February 22 - 24
Carolina Performing
Arts, UNC Chapel Hill


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