Conquer the Night – BCTV

The library steps on 5th Street feature excerpts of poetry that were painted during a community event in 2018. Although the majority of the verses were washed away years ago, the words “rise above” stand proudly on one of the center risers. Those words came to life with lights at the recent annual Conquer the Night dance show.

The process began on the afternoon of Saturday October 8 when five local dancers met at the Barrio Alegria headquarters with dancer Mikol Anthony who guided them through a choreography. Mikol Anthony, a Reading High graduate who lives in New Jersey, has returned to the town where he grew up to share his artistic knowledge.

As they rehearsed, a team of volunteers headed up the library steps to build a stage with lights, a fabric backdrop and a sound system. The group opened the show dancing to Missy Eliot’s “Cool Off” followed by five solo pieces choreographed by local talent. Mikol Anthony closed the show with a fire dance.

Barrio is no stranger to library steps. For the past five years, these stages have hosted performances of the Storytelling Through Dance project – featuring locally written plays that address issues of social justice through the storytelling of fairy tales. While these choreographed performances on the surface appear to be short-lived explosions of color, the sustained and responsive community engagement behind the scenes is where the real impact of these creative set-up efforts are truly felt.

A new frontier.

During the pandemic, Barrio has had to reinvent safe community spaces.

“We’ve been creative in delivering on our promises to the community,” Barrio COO Arleny Pimentel said.

The group discovered that holding events indoors and for short periods of time limited artists’ accessibility and exposure, so they decided to hold activities outdoors, after sunset, starting with a photography exhibit with photos projected from the Franklin Street side of the library.

Hosting events at night goes directly back to stories like “At 5pm when everyone leaves, there’s no one in Reading”.

Barrio executive director Daniel Egusquiza disputed that account. “We live in Reading and we are here after 5 p.m. Does that make us dummies? ” He asked.

During Conquer the Night, Jose Garcia, a volunteer emcee, explained the idea to the audience. He explained that the night is considered a dangerous and forbidden place. But we are here because we live here. And just like its neighbours, Barrio is also conquering the night!

For Barrio, holding the space on a consistent basis is key to their creative set-up initiative. While one-time events can mobilize energy, consistency sustains energy and can be used to create change. Since the change must include both day and night, they are moving some of their events to take place outdoors after dark.

The platform

Dancers Richard, Zakief and Rainha performed solo pieces at Conquer the Night. They are part of a dance collective called Cyphers on the Square. The band uses wooden platforms in City Park as rehearsal spaces, but there are challenges.

While the band watches videos and listens to music during their rehearsals, they keep tabs on their internet data.

“We usually have to alternate phones to make sure we don’t get charged.” Rainha said.

Zakief intervenes. “A mobile hotspot would help us tremendously.”

Reading Public Library has strived to be more than a platform for these performances. To overcome barriers to accessing resources, the library instituted its e-card in 2016 and earlier this year abolished all late fees for materials.

As it continues its “library of the future” trajectory, RPL is meeting community needs in unlikely places – even planning to have mobile hotspots available to borrow as part of an upcoming initiative.” Consult the Internet”.

And after?

Barrio continues to develop its programs in collaboration with local artists and residents, and plans to continue its partnership with the Reading Public Library. The next 5 years of community theater productions will follow the stories of five superheroes while exploring themes such as violence, voting, food insecurity, mass incarceration and power dynamics. Barrio plans to capture this essence on the library steps, both during the day and, increasingly, at night.

About Keith Johnson

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