Conversations | On the Road with “Black Velvet – Architectures & Archetypes”
“We created a world in Black Velvet where we can both exist and thrive, and the lines between masculinity, femininity, love, color, and orientation blur.” – Shamel Pitts
Shamel Pitts and Mirelle Martins are the duo behind the NYFA Fiscally Sponsored Project, Black Velvet, an international performance art tour that through dramatic and bold yet supple movements, sketches a concept of identity that transcends the boundaries of race, gender, and sexual orientation. Shamel Pitts graciously spared his time while traversing the globe to tell us more about the project’s inception. Black Velvet is the recipient of a Harkness Foundation for Dance grant.
Upcoming Performances of Black Velvet:
NYFA: Who are the collaborators in Black Velvet?
NYFA: When did Black Velvet begin?
SP: It felt as if from Mirelle and my first encounter in Brooklyn, 2013, the work and content of Black Velvet started to brew. Mirelle came to New York to participate in her first dance intensive, the Gaga Summer Intensive. She was the student, and I was her teacher. Mirelle and I grew closer due to our similarities, and even closer through the shared intrigue of our differences.
NYFA: Where did the current tour begin, and where will it be going?
SP: We started our international tour in Berlin in August 2017. Since then, Black Velvet has been to Stockholm, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and New York. This year, Black Velvet has been invited to tour in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Singapore, Zimbabwe, Baltimore, and Brazil, where Black Velvet had its premiere in 2016.
NYFA: What impact does the international scope of the tour have on the performance?
SP: Black Velvet creates a space for a very reflective experience, and it is very meaningful for us to share this work with an international audience. Each time we’ve performed in a new place, it is something new for us as performers and the audience as well. I love to see the eyes and feel the energy of the audience after the show – something shifts and we are able to see more of each other, and that shift feels good.
NYFA: How does the performance articulate the “colorfulness of blackness,” as expressed in the mission statement on the website?
SP: Mirelle and I are both African American, but Mirelle is from Brazil and I am from Brooklyn. We both experienced ourselves as outsiders of our cultures, but also felt ourselves as outliers to all the boxes and titles that were assumed of us. What does it mean to be black, especially a black woman, or a black gay man? What space do we have in order to live fully, without confining ourselves to the societal boxes created for us? We created a world in Black Velvet where we can both exist and thrive and the lines between masculinity, femininity, love, color, and orientation blur. In that world, there is room for both of us to be, and this creates the oneness of our existence and the colorfulness of our blackness.
NYFA: Why did you choose NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship?
SP: After seven years living in Israel, I decided to leave Batsheva Dance Company to continue on my independent artistic path. I feel that as overly crowded New York is, there is space for my voice and my work here. It made the most sense to choose NYFA as my fiscal sponsor because of its clear support in empowering artists. With NYFA’s partnership, we are rebuilding space for me to share something new in New York, and the building is starting to take form beautifully.
– Interview conducted by Priscilla Son, Program Assistant, Fiscal Sponsorship and Finance
Are you an artist or new organization interested in expanding your fundraising capacity through NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship? We accept out-of-cycle reviews year-round. No-fee applications are accepted on a quarterly basis and our next deadline is March 31. Click here to learn more about the program, current fiscally-sponsored projects, and to apply.
Images: Rebecca Stella