Learning Donald McKayle’s Rainbow Round My Shoulder was a very personal journey for me.
Growing up as a black female in America with parents who lived through and experienced segregation, I heard stories like these of my ancestors, but could never truly grasp what it meant. I knew it was a struggle. I knew we, as a country, have come far and I know we still have a journey ahead of us. As an artist, specifically a dancer, one has the opportunity to dive into history in a way that separates us from any other art form. We have a chance to embody time, a moment, a song.
As I rehearsed Rainbow, it left me feeling many things. Angry, sad, hopeful… that is it’s power. It has had the ability of relevance since its inception.
Music plays a big role in this piece. Each negro spiritual represents a tone that creates the arc of the piece. It is the marriage of the movement and these songs that allow this story to be told so well and add to its continued relevance.
I have struggled during this process to put into words how important work like this is. How important black dance is. Donald McKayle always stressed the importance of having a multiracial company. I believe it was because it is essential for everyone to learn one another’s struggle. Not take it on, but to really listen, hear and empathize with one another. Not to just proclaim everyone is equal, but to truly celebrate the differences. To recognize what ancestry brings to an art form. What a race of people can bring to a culture.
Ursula Perry is originally from Houston, Texas where she began her training at the Houston Ballet Academy. Her journey to RDT has been supplemented by studies at Boston Ballet, Joffery Ballet, Alvin Ailey, the Edge Performing Arts, and University of Utah’s Ballet Department. Ursula has been dancing with RDT since 2013.