Dance Manifold: A Conversation with Tara Aisha Willis
An interview for Sixty Inches From Center
“…completely new yet familiar territory.” These words echoed after I revisited the accompanying publication for Relations, a performance that brought together pioneering artists Bebe Miller, Ishmael Houston-Jones, and Ralph Lemon on the MCA Stage in November 2018. In her introduction for the publication, curator Tara Aisha Willis offers a series of questions and propositions that draw from the historically-anchored yet generative tone set by Miller, Houston-Jones, and Lemon, while also honoring the shapeshifting and indefinable nature of Black dance and movement practices.
When considered in full, Willis, too, is the “new yet familiar” manifested in many ways. As a returning Chicago native whose dance career has developed largely outside of the city, there’s a fresh familiarity to her perspective. The new is also visible through her role as a curator of performance and when considering the artists and projects she is bringing to the MCA Stage. Then, an additional familiarity is present within her work due to an awareness of historical context, a body of knowledge that is harnessed, in part, through her work as a PhD candidate in the Performance Studies program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. While paying close attention to the foundations that many before her helped build, she is pushing these experimental legacies forward and charting new territory by demonstrating what it looks like to simultaneously embody and move fluidly between her roles as an artist, scholar, writer, administrator, and curator of dance.
During our conversation, Willis discusses significant moments on the path that led her back to Chicago in order to take a position as Associate Curator of Performance at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and the deep and sometimes untethered relationship with dance, performance, and movement that carried her along the way.
Read the full interview here…
Photo Credits, top to bottom:
[1-2] Portraits of Tara Aisha Willis at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago by Kristie Kahns.
[3-4] Performance view, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Ralph Lemon, and Bebe Miller: Relations, MCA Chicago November 2-3, 2018 Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
 Performance view, Claudia Rankine and Will Rawls: What Remains, MCA Chicago; December 5-9, 2018; Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.