Fellows Friday: Q&A with Jumatatu Poe

Jumatatu Poe, 2012 Pew Fellow. Photo by Colin Lenton.

As part of our “Fellows Friday” feature, we focus on the artistic lives of our Pew Fellows: their aspirations, influences, and creative challenges.

This week, we speak to choreographer and dancer Jumatatu Poe who has produced such provocative, experimental dance works as the Center-funded Private Places, as well as other pieces such as The Flight Attendants and FLATLAND 2010. Poe’s work as a choreographer focuses on exploring bodies and selves that are physical, emotional, representational, and spiritual. He is also interested in vernacular dance forms, such as J-Sette. Poe is the founder and co-director of Philadelphia-based dance/theater company idiosynCrazy productions. As a performer, he has worked with several choreographers, including Marissa Perel, Merián Soto, and Leah Stein.

Which books are on your bedside table?

I recently finished reading Danielle Goldman’s I Want to Be Ready, which I recommend to anyone interested in dance, performance, music, collaboration, freedom, and/or social justice. I’m also reading Femi Euba’s Legba and the Politics of Metaphysics: The Trickster in Black Drama, as well as Samuel Delany’s Trouble on Triton.

What do you miss most from your childhood?

I miss growing up around a community of elders. Growing up in California, with a huge extended family on both of my parents’ sides, and having a family strongly connected to a political movement (my parents were both Pan-Africanists), I was consistently surrounded by a group of older people who were looking out for me, and who would step in for surrogate parenting without hesitation. At times, this was really liberating… Other times it was confusing, like most things in life. But I miss that feeling of protection. The two parents that I have are wonderful, though, and I am fortunate to have them in my life.

What are the primary vehicles you use to support your practice—what makes it possible?

I am quite fortunate to have an amazing part-time faculty position at Swarthmore College in the dance program. It essentially means that half of my career is focused on teaching (which is very important to me), and the other half on creating art work (which is also very important to me). Swarthmore has been really wonderful with trying to figure out how I can attend to my needs as a very active member in the performance field, while making sure that I am efficiently integrated into the college environment and, specifically, the dance program.

Do you think about your legacy and, if so, how does your thinking about it affect your practice?

I used to think a lot about legacy, actually. When I was maybe 14 or so, I remember writing a paper proposing lots of questions about the millennial legacy (I think that I had just come across, for the first time, the titling of Generation Y, my generation, as millennials). Then, I remember being somewhat obsessed with what I was contributing—as a member of a specific generation, and particularly as a member of that generation living in the U.S.—and how that would be remembered in perpetuity.

Currently, I don’t know that I am so concerned with perpetuity, with legacy. Often, I think of my own and our collective responsibility to the world and its preservation for those to come. I wonder what that responsibility is. Does it exist? Certainly, there is no universal agreement on what that would be. Who gets to have a voice in that conversation? Who doesn’t? Who gets to have control over how history is written? Similarly, who gets to have control over how dance/performance/art history is written?… I think that legacy is layered in politics of power.

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