Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble Revives "Southland"

September 2012

The stage has been dark on Southland for more than 50 years. The ballet weaves a tale of the Deep South in the 1950s by following the story of a young woman whose false accusation of rape against a black man results in his murder. It's an impassioned commentary on the racial prejudices of the time (including a lynching scene) choreographed by Katherine Dunham—regarded for her anthropological dance style and considered one of the mothers of black dance. Southland was performed once in Santiago, Chile in 1951 but was immediately shut down after American Embassy officials decided it reflected badly on the United States. Following a short run in Paris in 1953, the production was halted, never to be seen again. Until now.

Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble is recreating the production for its U.S. world premiere. To maintain the show's integrity, the troupe consulted with surviving cast members on everything from music and costumes to staging and lighting. Julia Belafonte (who played the young, white woman in the original production) is one of those consultants. Now 83 years old, Belafonte says the show's message is still relative 50 years later. "Racism still exists today," she says. "It just manifests itself in different ways."

Details: Southland is showing Friday, September 14 and Saturday, September 15 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, September 16 at 2 p.m. All performances are at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts on the University of Denver campus. Tickets are $40 and can be purchased here.

Follow assistant editor Daliah Singer on Twitter at @daliahsinger.