This weekend, when the Mélange Dance Company takes the stage at the Contemporary Arts Center, its 19 dancers will give extra meaning to the word “movement.”
In a production titled “La Résistance,” running Friday through Sunday evenings, the performers will depict eras of American history during which popular movements resulted in sweeping change in public policy. These eras run from the Civil Rights Movement, with its roots in slavery and the Jim Crow era, to the present, taking in racial and gender equality, LGBTQ rights, climate change, gun control and the quest for peace.
These causes and motifs are consistent with the dance company’s mission and its composition, according to co-founder and artistic director, Monica Ordoñez.
The word “mélange” implies a mix or a fusion, and the dancers represent a wide range of ethnicities and other distinct characteristics, she said.
The first act focuses on Civil Rights, showing how subsequent movements are connected, Ordoñez said. It segues into the pride movement and same-sex marriage, the Summer of Love in 1967 and women’s liberation.
In the second half, the focus shifts to the present, and the theme is suggested by the title of the opening dance number: “Ain’t Gonna Turn Around.”
"The progress we’ve made was because of people power and resistance," Ordoñez said. "We need to keep moving in a positive direction and not lose what we fought for.”
The production will be enhanced by footage of Civil Rights demonstrations and protest songs from various eras of social unrest and change.
Depicting the fight for social justice has been a consistent theme for Mélange since its founding in 2014 by Ordoñez and Alexa Erck Lambert. Previous productions have tackled LGBTQ rights, gender equality and immigration. Their 2017 production of “Journey of Dreamers,” focusing on early 20th-century immigration, earned the company a Big Easy Award for outstanding choreography.
“La Résistance” identifies some of the real-life inspirations for their performance. Recy Taylor (performed by Gianni Reid) was raped by six white men in Alabama in 1944, none of whom were convicted. Taylor, who died in 2017, six years after receiving a formal apology from the Alabama Legislature, is considered one of the forerunners of today’s “Me Too” movement.
Also portrayed are Mildred and Richard Loving, whose 1967 Supreme Court victory paved the way for the legalization of interracial marriage in states where it had been banned. The dancers are also an interracial couple, Elle and Daniel Jones.
Moving into the present, Ordoñez hinted that there would be references to high-profile people who have an impact on public policy. “I feel like it’s hard to avoid,” she said. “If I’m going to work up a show about resistance movements, I’ve got to be truthful to what’s happening.”
The issues being debated and decided today are hitting home in more ways than one for Ordoñez personally. Not only has she been an active participant in women’s marches in New Orleans, she is also two months from having her first baby, a girl.
“Creating a human being while creating a show of this type definitely affects your thinking,” Ordoñez said. “It has given me a bigger picture why everyone involved in grassroots resistance movements does this. They’re trying to make a better world for the generations to come. I feel the same way and want to do my part. I hope the people seeing this production will be inspired to use their voices to speak out.”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9 through Sunday, Nov. 11
WHERE: Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., New Orleans
INFO: (504) 528-3800. melangedanceofnola.com