In 2016, choreographer Suchi Branfman, began a five-year choreographic residency inside the CRC Prison, a medium-security state men’s prison in Norco, California. The project, dubbed “Dancing Through Prison Walls,” developed into a critical dialogue about freedom, confinement, and ways of surviving restriction, limitations, and denial of liberty through the act of dancing. The dancing abruptly ended in March 2020, when the prison system shut down programming and visitation due to Covid-19. The work was rapidly revised, and the incarcerated dancers began sending out written choreographies from their bunks to the outside world. The resulting collection of deeply imagined choreographic pieces, written between March and May of 2020, was dubbed Undanced Dances Through Prison Walls During a Pandemic.
This gathering begins with a 40-minute film of these written choreographies transformed into embodied dances. 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 (formerly incarcerated movers and organizers) and choreographically interpreted by a brilliant group of choreographers/performers: Bernard Brown, Jay Carlon, Irvin Gonzalez, Kenji Igus, Brianna Mims and Tom Tsai (all of whom have joined Branfman dancing inside the CRC prison.) Between them, they are steeped in hip hop, tap, breaking, performance art, quebradita, spoken word, Butoh and contemporary dance forms.
Led by project artists, participants will join in some of the creative processes utilized inside the prison walls to embody questions of sustenance, survival and community, and invited to embody Undanced Dances written inside the prison that have not previously been danced. No prior movement or dance experience is required, all are welcome…echoing the ways we approach dancing in the prison gym.
Undanced Dances Through Prison Walls During a Pandemic, lead artists are choreographer/artistic director Suchi Branfman and filmmaker/choreographer Tom Tsai.
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 CRC Prison, a medium security state men’s prison in Norco, CA, is Artistic Director of the multi-faceted Dancing Through Prison Walls project, serves on faculty at Scripps College and Cal Poly Pomona, is a community gardener and prison abolition activist.
Tom Tsai is a dancer, choreographer, and filmmaker based out of Los Angeles. 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 against injustice and erasure. Tom has made dance-documentary short films in collaboration with Suchi Branfman, “Sustained” and “Angee’s Journey”, both of which tell stories of resilience and hope through the experiences of those affected by the carceral system. Tom 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 LA-based choreographers Suchi Branfman, Laurie Cameron, Victoria Marks, and John Pennington.
Richie Martinez is a writer, voice-over artist and passionate dancer who started working with the Dancing Through Prison Walls project inside Norco Prison in 2019, and has continued since his release in 2020. His written work has been published in Undanced Dances Through Prison Walls During a Pandemic, Sming Sming Books. Richie is a father of four and we are honored that he has agreed to be a part of this project.
Terry Sakamoto Jr. is a generous and accomplished storyteller. Three of his written dances are performed in the film Undanced Dances Through Prison Walls During a Pandemic and published by Sming Sming Books in a book by the same name. Terry is a skilled truck driver who has traveled the highways and byways of the United States, a loving husband, and the father of three beautiful children.
Selina Ho is a graduate of Scripps College with a BA in Politics and a double minor in Dance and Data Science and currently works as a Data Analyst at the Vera institute of Justice. She has had the profound privilege of facilitating dance with Suchi Branfman within California Rehabilitation Center, a medium security men’s state prison in Norco, CA and contributing to Undanced Dances Through Prison Walls During a Pandemic as the production facilitator. In community, she strives towards dismantling carceral systems and imagining new modes of healing and justice.