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Zane Booker

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A Window on the Work: Wednesday, September 23, 2009, Troy Dance Lab

Mr. Booker and his company Smoke, Lilies and Jade Arts Initiative participated in the Swarthmore Project this summer, a two week residency program for professional dance companies and choreographers. Mr. Booker's work generally focuses on telling the stories of African-Americans living with HIV/AIDS through multi-media dance-theater. During his residency at Swarthmore, he was able to explore a new creative process for his company involving researching the lives of cultural figures who have made significant impacts in the Civil Rights movement, such as James Baldwin and Josephine Baker.

Mr. Booker writes about his work and process:

"The working title of the "work in progress" is Portraits. The most exciting thing about the Swarthmore Project was that we could explore process. My work is not usually linear, but it is always character driven and I usually create movement first. During this process, we used acting techniques and historical research to create a persona before we created movement. The objective was to explore a process that would allow us to address the topics of: racism, classicism, sexism or homophobia.
How did we begin?

1. I asked the dancers to choose a historical person related to one or more of the suggested topics.

2. We researched and discussed the person( i.e. James Baldwin) and recorded our reactions to the discovered information.
How did their (Gloria Steinem, James Baldwin, Josephine Baker, Byron Hurt, E.Lynn Harris) story make you feel? What effect did it have on you emotionally?

3. We used several acting improvisations to become the character meeting the other characters. We kept digging.

4. I asked the dancers to write their reaction to the research. I accepted, a list of words, a poem or prose. From this document we started to create movement. I wanted each solo of movement to be like a monologue.

In the beginning, I directed movement and assigned task oriented improvisation. This was very different then, my normal process. Which often begins with me moving and the dancers following until we have a full phrase of movement to develop.

This time it was different. I moved much later in the process. And the dancers had much more information and personal perspective about the material we were using to create the piece. The improvisations were so rich.

In the last and most interesting task the dancers had to relate the text they had written directly by creating a monologue of movement.

So, I do not want to talk about it as if it is a finished piece. It is a work in process based on historical figures that were/are important to the fight for civil rights for all."

Mr. Booker will show excerpts from this work and will answer questions from the audience. This event is free and open to the public without advance reservations.


Zane Booker, a native Philadelphian, began his dance training at the age of seven with the Philadelphia School of Dance Arts under the direction of Joan Myers Brown. By age fourteen he was selected by Ms. Brown to perform with Philadanco. He went on to become one of the Company's principal artists dancing roles created by Talley Beatty, Louis Johnson and Gene Hill Sagan. Zane went on to pursue a degree at the North Carolina School of the Arts. Encouraged by his teachers to continue his training at the School of American Ballet, Zane moved to New York, auditioned and was accepted into the SAB. Once there, he was invited by Mikhail Baryshnikov to augment his studies at the American Ballet Theater.  Zane maintained a rigorous training schedule at both institutions for two years.

During a trip to Holland with the School of American Ballet to perform on a joint program with the Vagonava School, Zane auditioned for the Netherlands Dance Theater. He was quickly accepted into the company and spent the next six years dancing under the direction of Jiri Kylian. As a soloist he danced roles created by Kylian, Nacho Duato, William Forsythe, Mats Ek and Ohad Nahrin. In 1996 Zane accepted an offer to join Les Ballets De Monte Carlo under the direction of Jean Christophe Maillot. During his tenure there he was featured in ballets created by John Alleyne, Ted Brandsen and Jean Christophe Maillot.

Zane left Les Ballets De Monte Carlo in 1999 to accept invitations to appear as a guest artist with major ballet companies around the world including the new National Theater of Tokyo, Philadanco, Complexions, Les Ballet De Monte Carlo, the Opera of Monte Carlo, and Rhythmek. During this period Zane also focused his energies on creating choreographies for universities, ballet companies, operas and musical productions. His credits include works for the Philadelphia Dance Company, Mogador Theatre-Paris, the Jackson Ballet Competition and the Opera of Monte Carlo. Mr. Booker has also taught for companies and schools in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. After moving back to the U.S., Zane was invited to dance with Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project. There he danced for two years before the group disbanded.

In 2006 Zane became the founder and artistic director of the Smoke, Lilies and Jade Arts Initiative (SLJ), a socially conscious, multimedia, dance theater company, promoting HIV/ AIDS awareness. He created Ebony, Beige and Bronze: The Philadelphia Show to inspire social consciousness about HIV/AIDS. Dance Magazine chose SLJ as one of 25 companies to watch in 2007. Zane is a master lecturer at University of the Arts and Howard University.