As the distinct drum beat in the contemporary African music accelerated and intensified, Tricia Taitt ’96 led an invigorating arrangement of dance moves. Before the music was played, Tamika Guishard ’98 screened her production “Jackie,” as part of Taitt and Guishards’ workshop titled, “The Art of Storytelling.” The workshop was held on Saturday noon in Kemper Auditorium in celebration of Black Arts Weekend.
“I feel like dance can be a spiritual experience. You work so hard at crafting the movement and having it align with the music, perfecting your own body… So you always have to figure out how you work within this vessel that is your body and then you have to train [your] body to do the things that you need to do. So I feel like in dance, you have to become so invested and it’s so internal because you are using your body [to tell] whatever story and express whatever art,” said Taitt.
After completing her studies at University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), Duke University and New York University, Taitt worked for Merrill Lynch and Citigroup before starting her own organization, Art & Money Matters.
“The mission of Art and Money Matters is to empower creative professionals in small businesses around money and numbers… What I appreciate about finance and financial analysis is that it tells a story. Numbers tell a story. It tells you whether you have cash, whether you don’t have cash. Whether you’re at a profit, you’re at a loss. How well is you company doing? What is the health of your company? What your net worth is… that’s the part I like to show people,” said Taitt.
Guishard works in the Tribeca Film Institute, District of Columbia Public Schools and the National Park Service. Her films have been featured in Oscar-qualifying film festivals, at Harvard University and on SXSW.com.
“I enjoy [filmmaking] because I like the collective aspect of it. I like facilitating experiences for people, where they see a different aspect of life that they maybe weren’t exposed to before. I like everything: the conversations, the critical conversations that happen after films, the debrief… Filmmaking to me is a way to just spark critical thought and being an educator is what I appreciate most about it,” said Guishard in an interview with The Phillipian.
After a brief introduction by Abdu Donka ’18, Guishard presented a short lesson on a white board about the basic structure of short films, which consisted an introduction of characters, a setting, a conflict and a resolution. Guishard also emphasized the importance of the angle and position of the camera.
“I am a believer in pedagogical filmmaking because cinema has the power to encapsulate all of the multiple intelligences to tap into the minds of different types of learners and engender concrete conversations because everyone can now speak to what they’ve seen and understood on screen. It also affords storytellers, irrespective of medium, incredible reach,” wrote Guishard in an email with The Phillipian.
After screening “Jackie,” Guishard taught the audience about the techniques of filmmaking by suggesting the types of questions a good director should ask. “Jackie” is the film adaptation of a dance production that depicts a young UPenn student, Jackie, discovering throughout the film that she was born from teenage pregnancy.
“I think something that touched me the most was when the film was played, because I felt like a lot of the scenes that were shown and a lot of shots that were shown portrayed a sort of emotion from the characters that was very, very intense… the emotion was just so raw and so real,” said Hannah Beaudoin ’17.
Following Guishard’s film, Taitt led a session of traditional African dance to demonstrate iconic moves from Lamban, a West African dance created to call the natives together to tell an ancient story. Through teaching a fusion of traditional and contemporary African dance moves, Taitt wanted to bring awareness to the distinction and development of African dance.
“Dancing from the Congo and Zambia and South Africa and Nigeria are going to [be] different from traditional to contemporary. The other thing is that it’s evolving and it’s becoming very commercial. I’m glad that there was a diversity of people here and I was able to share something with [the students] that’s more of a traditional aesthetic but use contemporary music. If people can just appreciate where it comes from first before it becomes all too commercial, then I feel like I’ve done my job,” said Taitt.
The audience members responded by asking intimate questions and actively participating in the dance. Students were also given the opportunity to have personal conversations with Guishard and Taitt after the workshop.
“What I enjoyed the most was [having] two black women who [were] really [successful talk about how] the path to where they [were] going wasn’t necessarily linear and how they were discovering themselves along the way… Also, seeing their stories and how they express themselves in film and in dance… it was really beautiful and captivating,” said Mekedas Belayneh ’18.