"Black Boy Jungle" is a performance piece that incorporates multiple styles of dance, including modern, ballet and break dancing, along with narration and live music. It's a high-energy, interactive work with twists and surprises.
The second installment of the contemporary work focuses on identity with a goal -- to bring about unity and social awareness through art. The idea was conceived by 24-year-old Arien Wilkerson.
"It was a piece that I created around the time of my grandfather’s death," Wilkerson said. "I wanted to talk about not only his life but my life. Because when he passed I realized how much of him was in me, and I wanted to make a piece that kind of was about the people who have laid the foundation for us to do great things."
"Black Boy Jungle" is performed by Tnmot Aztro, a Hartford-based multimedia performance company. It’s a collaborative creation by Wilkerson, the company’s artistic director, and other artists. The piece is based on an existing character that tells a story and carries a message.
"Black boy, the character, was derived from the book by Richard Wright called Black Boy," explained Wilkerson. "And it was also derived from a West Indian movie called Rockers , about this West Indian man who studies Rastafari religion and he isn’t allowed to show any hate or hurt anyone."
The show has some surprises. Wilkerson said "Black Boy Jungle" provides an interactive experience. For example:
"The audience is eating fruit and drinking lots of water, ‘cause the entire set looks like Ellis Island," he said.
That's right, the audience is eating fruit.
"Yes, like bowls of fruit and candles and a shrine," said Wilkerson. "I wanted the whole place to feel like an homage to our loved ones, but also a big seaport."
The story is also about race, spirituality, and immigration. Wilkerson said he wanted to create a set that that looks like Ellis Island, but with a twist.
"Because it seemed like a place where everybody can feel validated and everyone can talk about their past," he said.
The show premieres Friday, July 22 and Saturday, July 23 at the Town and County Club in Hartford.