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Here's What to Expect During Phoenix's First-Ever BlakTina Dance Festival

Audrey Pekala
Arizona choreographers for BlakTina Festival in Phoenix.
The BlakTina Dance Festival is coming to Phoenix in July. Founded in Los Angeles in 2013, the festival celebrates choreographers, dancers, and other artists of color. Liliana Gomez, one of the Valley’s best-known dancers and choreographers, is working with BlakTina founder Licia Perea to make it happen.

It’s part of Gomez’s efforts to bring more artists of color to Phoenix, and to put the spotlight on those who are already here.

“Dance in reality is primarily white,” Gomez says. “There’s no hiding around that.”

It’s a sentiment echoed on a national scale, perhaps most notably with the outpouring of support for Misty Copeland. In 2015, Copeland became the first black ballerina promoted to principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre company in New York.

“It doesn’t need to be that way,” Gomez says of the mostly white dance world. “In my reality, there are a lot of people and artists of color.”

Phoenix choreographer and dancer Liliana Gomez. - LYNN TRIMBLE
Phoenix choreographer and dancer Liliana Gomez.
Lynn Trimble
She’s lined up 10 choreographers to create works for Phoenix's inaugural BlakTina Festival, which takes place on Saturday, July 22, at the Helen K. Mason Center for the Performing Arts, home of the Black Theatre Troupe. It's being produced by Gomez and Perea.

Participating choreographers include Ashley Baker, Angel Castro, Elisa Cavallero, Malikah Fernandez, Jenny Gerena, Sydney Jackson, Taimy Miranda, Reyna Montoya, Alexander Patrick, and Joan Rodriguez. The choreographers will be choosing their own dancers.

“I asked them to premiere works about what it means to be a dancer of color in Phoenix,” Gomez says. “Some of their themes include personal stories.”

One choreographer is exploring immigrating to America, Gomez says. Another is addressing what it means to be a Mexican and a feminist. One piece will tackle mental health, and other health issues, in the black community.

Two pieces will feature work created by Los Angeles-based choreographers, including a four-member collective called Primera Generación Dance and Michelle Funderburk of Funderburk Dance Artists.

“Funderburk pays homage to Maya Angelou and her poetry,” says Perea. “The collective brings a distinct Chicano voice that incorporates spoken word.”

click to enlarge Ten choreographers are creating new work for the first BlakTina Festival in Phoenix. - AUDREY PEKALA
Ten choreographers are creating new work for the first BlakTina Festival in Phoenix.
Audrey Pekala
The guest choreographers give local audiences a chance to see works they wouldn’t otherwise experience in Phoenix. And that’s a two-way street, because Gomez will be taking works by Phoenix choreographers to the next BlakTina Festival in Los Angeles, which happens in September.

“The cross-pollination between cities is really exciting,” Perea says.

Gomez wants to keep it going by organizing future BlakTina Festivals in Phoenix. She’s already looking ahead to possible changes, including putting out calls for artists, and expanding the festival’s funding sources.

“I’m at the point in my career where I need to shift into a leadership role and elevate other artists,” Gomez says.

The BlakTina Festival takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 22, at the Helen K. Mason Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $15. Learn more on the BlakTina Festival website.