Faculty News

A Nation Grooves

In January 2021, faculty member Michael Wimberly participated in the third residency of A Nation Grooves—a dance-centered theater piece that used oral history to tell an origin story of hip-hop—held at MASS MoCA.

Image of a group with A Nation Grooves written

A Nation Grooves: A People’s History of Hip-Hop is a dance-centered theater piece that uses oral history collected over seven years and the dances that make up the freestyle umbrella to tell an origin story of hip-hop. It is envisioned as a documentary theatre piece, a theatrical presentation of oral testimony. Its story begins in the 1970’s with two communities: the black neighborhoods of San Francisco’s Bay Area and New York’s Brooklyn neighborhoods and spans thirty years.

Wimberly's involvement with A Nation Grooves dates back to the summer of 2013, when he worked as a sound designer and music arranger for the Classical Theatre of Harlem’s production of Shakespere’s Midsummer Night’s Dream presented at the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Harlem. At this production, Wimberly met Kambi Gathesha, an actor, writer, director, and choreographer who was a cast member in the production.

In 2019, Gathesha became a recipient of the Jerome Robbin’s Foundation fellowship Project Springboard, an initiative to develop dance-driven musicals. Gathesha invited Wimberly to play and compose the music during this fellowship, which was titled A Nation Grooves: A People’s History of Hip-Hop.

Later in 2019, the project landed the Critical Breaks Residency at Hi-Arts in NYC from December 1-10. During the COVID-19 pandemic the following year, they created two Zoom workshops to extend the project's work.

2021 marks the third residency of A Nation Grooves, which was held at MASS MoCA January 14-28. Funded in part by Octopus Theatricals, American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.), and the A.R.T. Institute at Harvard, this residency supported further exploration and development of the script, choreography, and music.

This residency invited all collaborators to join together while adhering to social distancing protocols. During the residency, Wimberly had the chance to work with 6 actor/dancers, DJ Roderique J, sound designers Sinan Zafar and Brian Hickey, and the renowned guitarist Mark Stewart.