Detroit’s own Erika ‘Big Red’ Stowall has danced her way into an online PBS series called “If Cities Could Dance.”
The program is the creation of KQED, the San Francisco Bay Area NPR and PBS station. Each webisode in the series captures the dancers’ personal stories and their deep-rooted relationships to their community and city.
“In creating a national series, we wanted to highlight cities and dancers in the Midwest and the South – not just highlight more known dance capitals like New York and Los Angeles,” says Siouxsie Oki, manager, communications and engagement at KQED Arts.
“We chose Detroit because of its rich history, and because we recognized it as a city experiencing a lot change — with similarities to what we’re experiencing here in the Bay Area, where extreme economic forces are making it hard for artists to survive and stay here.
Oki says the organization came across Erika’s work and was inspired by the strength and vulnerability of her movement and wanted to share it with audiences.
In the video above, Stowall dances movements she calls “mutt” or “gumbo” in Corktown and in front of the old Michigan Central Station train depot.
“To be a dancer in Detroit, you have to acknowledge where you are,” says Stowall. “You’re seeing people being pushed out, unwanted. As a black woman myself, that’s not something I’m going to stand for and tolerate.”
According to KQED Arts, Stowall looks at Detroit as a canvas where she can “express her femininity, reclaim personal safety, and be ‘vulnerable, but powerful as well’ through choreography and movement.”
Stowall started dancing when she was four and focused on African and Caribbean traditions. She later studied jazz, tap, ballet and contemporary dance.
She is the founder of the Detroit-based Big Red Wall dance company, which performs in major cities around the US. She formed the company “knowing her aesthetic did not fit into a certain idea of ‘what is dance.’” She looks at her dance “as a melting pot of many different styles and wants to explore how her choreography could transcribes the African American experiences into performance storytelling,” according to the Facebook page.
Stowall is a 2015 Applebaum Emerging Artist and a 2016 Kresge Arts Fellow.
KQED’s newest online video series also spotlights movement artists from San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Portland. Stowall is featured in the second episode. There’s a new episode every Tuesday through May 28. Click here to watch other installments.