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Choreographer Profile: Chris Law


By Tess Seibert

Chris Law (center) with Goucher dance students at the Kennedy Center premiere of Project ChArma’s work Chronicles of Nina…What Now? in D.C. April 12, 2024 [Photo credit: Alicia Boykin]

Christopher Law (he/him) has been dancing for around 25 years; he is co-director of DMV artistic collective Project ChArma — “pronounced Karma because it guides our lives” — and a professor here at Goucher. Until recently, he essentially worked two full-time jobs: while sustaining a career in community arts, he was on contract with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), helping people navigate flood insurance policies. In shifting to center his creative pursuits, Chris got a call from professor Mustapha Braimah who was looking to fill a dance department vacancy during his sabbatical. Chris taught a workshop last fall to trial the possibility and, excited by a passionate class of students, decided the position was a great fit. 

When I asked his thoughts on our community now that he’s had the chance to settle, Chris wasn’t hesitant to address the repeated incidents of racist graffiti found on campus. Rather than being an immediate deterrent to taking the job, he synthesized the hate crimes with a conscious nuance, approaching Goucher as a forum for dialogue: “I find the arts is a good place to navigate hard discussions.” He credits his upbringing as a substantial influence on his perspective; when he was 13, Chris attended a summer performing arts program that transformed his perception and management of anger. He has led with a socially-engaged mindset of the arts since, evident in his classroom implementation of documentaries and group discussions that embrace difficult topics and emphasize the cultural significance of hip-hop.

Chris is currently setting choreography on a cast of 10 dancers for the spring concert. When I asked him to describe the piece, he responded: “I’m really trying to reconnect with what it means to be of African descent.” He elaborated further:

“The piece is going to be called Metamorphosis. And it parallels the process of a caterpillar and its emergence from its cocoon into a butterfly, and its parallel to the Black experience. Black people, we have inherited a lot of trauma due to generations of mistreatment, enslavement, and exploitation. This piece really speaks to the process of trying to learn how to love yourself despite these factors… and in turn learn to love others.” 

Chris expressed immense gratitude for his cast’s openness to experimentation; because they don’t expect him to have all the answers, there is a lot of collaborative play that enriches the rehearsal space. When I inquired into the challenges he was still wrestling, he shared:

“I think a big question that I’ve been battling with is ‘How am I lending myself as an example to what it means to be an African American?’ Another question, a big question, is ‘Who has agency to really take ownership of these things?’ I have dealt with — and coming in on a learning curve on so many different levels of my life in this transition I’ve took — I’ve been experiencing some imposter syndrome. There’s always this question of what authentic dance is and bringing it into the proscenium stage. Much of the dance that I’ve come to train in has taken place in a circular arena, the cipher if you will, and when you take that off and elevate it onto a proscenium stage you lend it to this eurocentric way of viewing dance: you got to question whether you’re watering down the essence of what it is. This piece is partially inspired by the fact that I came in as a replacement for Mustapha who teaches West African dance forms. How could I honor my own authentic movement and knowledge, while also honoring the foundation he’s instilled within the Goucher students?”

Chris conveyed that the bond of dance/music/fashion/community engagement is how he’s confronted the question of agency and authenticity in execution: 

“We all agree on these things, and so latching onto our mutual respect for the art, latching onto these components that unite us in this creative process, I encouraged the Goucher students to expel a lot of the negative self-talk like, ‘Am I really worthy of doing this movement?’ ‘Is my body really representing it in the best way?’ Well yes, because it’s something I’m asking you to do and we’re working from a level ground right now; we’re all on the same playing field here. In turn, I hope that I’ve created a classroom where open dialogue (vocally and movement-wise) can be shared without judgment.”

Regarding the proscenium as an inherently imperialist platform and lens, Chris intentionally integrated cycles into his choreography, offering breath to and reanimating the circle, because it not only is a prevalent feature in many West African dance forms but also in hip-hop. Beyond circular formations which appear throughout the piece, beginning phrases are revisited in the middle and the end of the work while others are passed on, cumulatively flowing from one dancer to the next. Acknowledging the weight of placing African-rooted traditions in western contexts, Chris explained:

“We can’t help — and I speak from the Black standpoint — we can’t help that our ancestors were taken from our original home and placed here. But what we can’t deny is that in being here, we actually repurposed our practices to make life as livable as possible here. The African practices rooted in strength, resilience and community have an embodied truth. They are the remnants that allow Black folks to persevere. I use this as inspiration and as an opportunity to get to the root of what is creating the toxicity among us. We can take the best parts of ourselves and lend it to others in order to inspire them to do the same.”

Summarizing the impact he wishes his piece to make:

“I hope that the cast can actually take away a better sense of how wonderfully complex and unique we all are, and how that’s beautiful.” 

“I hope that the audience can absorb the words and the movement of that piece and realize that process is honored.” 

“I hope that we can find, as both a cast and audience who see it, the permission to forgive ourselves. And because we’re forgiving ourselves, we’re in a better position to forgive others too.”
Metamorphosis premiered in the Goucher Repertory Dance Ensemble Spring Concert on Friday, April 19 and Saturday, April 20 at 7:30pm in Kraushaar Auditorium.

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