“Undanced Dances Through Prison Walls During a Pandemic”

Undanced Dances Through Prison Walls During a Pandemic
Brianna Mims Credit: Suchi Branfman, Zach Osma

“Undanced Dances Through Prison Walls During a Pandemic” features six dances written inside a prison, a 35-minute dance film, and 11 artists (seven choreographic interpreters and four formerly incarcerated narrators) conversing on dancing in carceral spaces.

April 2, 2021 6:30pm PDT
Produced by Dancing Through Prison Walls
(Closed captioning available upon request)

April 16, 2021 6:30pm PDT
Produced by 18th Street Arts Center
Zoom Info>>
(Spanish translation available)

Choreographer and educator, Suchi Branfman, began a five-year choreographic residency inside the California Rehabilitation Center, a medium-security state men’s prison in Norco, California.

The project was dubbed “Dancing Through Prison Walls.” But it developed into a dialogue about freedom, confinement, and how we survive restriction, limitations, and denial of liberty through the act of dancing.

Like everywhere, the project ended in March 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions. However, the work was quickly revised, and the incarcerated dancers began sending out written choreographies from their bunks to the outside world. The result was a collection of deeply imagined choreographic pieces, written between March and May of 2020, dubbed “Undanced Dances Through Prison Walls During a Pandemic.”

The “Undanced Dances Through Prison Walls During a Pandemic” event will highlight six dances written and choreographed inside the prison with the purpose to highlight the nation’s school to prison pipeline.  

Undanced Dances Through Prison Walls During a Pandemic
Tom Tsai Credit: Suchi Branfman, Zach Ozma

With artistic direction by Suchi Branfman and cinematography by Tom Tsai, the dances are narrated by Marc Antoni Charcas, Ernst Fenelon Jr., Richie Martinez and Romarilyn Ralston, all formerly incarcerated movers and organizers. The pieces are interpreted by choreographers Bernard Brown, Jay Carlon, Irvin Gonzalez, Kenji Igus, Bri Mims and Tom Tsai, all of whom have joined Branfman dancing inside the Norco prison). Each choreographer brings one of the written dances to life mixing in hip hop, tap, breaking, performance art, quebradita, spoken word, Bhutto and contemporary dance forms. 

Undanced Dances Through Prison Walls During a Pandemic 3PNG
Richie Martinez Credit: Suchi Branfman

Released from prison during the summer of 2020, Richie Martinez narrates and performs in “Richie’s Disappearing Acts,” which he wrote while incarcerated at the Norco prison during the pandemic.

Suchi Branfman, choreographer, curator, performer, educator and activist, has worked from the war zones of Managua to Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre and from Kampala’s Luzira Prison to NYC’s Joyce Theatre as soloist and with Wallflower Order, Crowsfeet Dance Collective, Liz Lerman, Gus Solomons Jr., Dan Wagoner and Augusto Boal. Her work strives to create an embodied terrain grounded in storytelling, dialogue, listening and action. Branfman is currently in the midst of a five-year choreographic residency at the California Rehabilitation Center, a medium security state men’s prison in Norco, CA. She is the artistic director of the multi-faceted Dancing Through Prison Walls project, serves on faculty at Scripps College and Cal Poly Pomona, and is a community gardener and prison abolition activist. 

Tom Tsai is a Los Angeles-based dancer, choreographer and filmmaker. As a descendent of survivors and victims of Taiwan’s martial law era, and a perpetual student of B-boy/B-girl culture, Tom is deeply inspired by the voices of the underrepresented who cope with and resist injustice and erasure. In collaboration with Suchi Branfman, Tom has made the dance documentary short films “Sustained” and “Angee’s Journey,” both of which tell stories of resilience and hope through the experiences of those affected by the carceral system. He has performed his solo works at iconic venues, including Judson Church (New York), Sadler’s Wells (London), Rotterdam Schouwburg (Rotterdam), and Esplanade Theatres (Singapore). He has danced with L.A.-based choreographers Suchi Branfman, Laurie Cameron, Victoria Marks and John Pennington.