Review: Gomela/to Return: Movement of Our Mother Tongue

By Mary Pickard

Gomela/to Return: Movement of Our Mother Tongue, presented by Junebug Productions is one of the most innovative performances of the season, combining spoken word, movement, dance, photography and videography. Currently running at Ashe Power House, Gomela is a mesmerizing tapestry of creative forces that conveys the breadth of African-American history while emphasizing the resilience of black people.

Director Stephanie McKee, producer Kiyoko McCrae and poet Sunni Patterson studied under John O’Neal and Doris Derby, co-founders of Free Southern Theater, which became a major influence on the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s. Junebug Productions carries on Free Southern Theater’s mission to use the arts in support of civil rights, and Gomela touches on slavery, racial profiling, poverty, lack of opportunity, Hurricane Katrina and negative societal messages relating to the black community. 

The stark, contemporary setting of Ashe Power House allows the audience to become completely engrossed in the action. Patterson appears out of the darkness, dressed in golden garments, personifying an Orisha, a spirit in the Yoruba religion of southwestern Nigeria who reflects a godlike being. Startling costumes designed by Ja’nese Brooks-Galathe and Dana Leon Lima of Aya Designs suggest a traditional Orisha manifesting in ordinary people. 

With little linear plot, performers artistically express how it feels to be black in America. Photographs and images projected on floor-to-ceiling scrims allow for broader interpretations of Patterson’s words as Jawara Simon beats traditional West African rhythms on a djembe. A haunting video showing Sandra Bland’s 2015 arrest in Texas for failing to signal a lane change elicits feelings of despair. She died in jail three days later. Evocative choreography by Jeremy Guyton, Kai Knight and Kesha McKey employs modern, African and second-line dance movements, and it is emotional, frightening and powerful. In one scene, Guyton franticly evades police....

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