Arts and Life Editor

A crowded room in the Knapp performance lab quickly silenced as the lights faded.

A projector displayed a picture of a female slave being whipped by a slaveholder. A few seconds later, it switched to two female slaves hanging themselves on the vessels of a ship, then a picture of a naked Black woman breast feeding her child, two Black hands intertwined and much more. Each picture was displayed with enough time to think about its meaning before switching to the next.

The last picture displayed the words “Embodying the Erotic,” the title of Graciella Maiolatesi’s ’16 senior research dance performance. The audience kept silent with their eyes on the stage for the next hour.   

The project focuses on Maiolatesi’s erotic identity as a Queer-Black-Female. She strutted around stage, talking about the first time she danced in a sexual way as “orgasmic,” about sexual relationships with women and men, mimicking the erotic feeling by somersaulting on the floor, shaking all parts of her body and clinging to walls as she faked an orgasm.

For most of the performance, she directed 7 other Black female dancers, who spanned in sexuality and also wore black leotards. She told them to explore their sexuality, or at other times, to express moments they felt “fear” or “tension” or “vulnerability.”

In one scene, all seven women expressed their sexuality and emotions by communicating with each other by slapping their thighs and breasts, shaking their legs and butt, taking high pitched breaths, somersaulting, and at times, violently running across stage in moments of ecstasy.

As the women performed, Maiolatesi said “This is for every Black girl who started menstruating on the slave ships” and “For every Black girl who thought that she could only explore her body in the darkness of the night,” and many other odes to black girls.

Maiolatesi wrote in her pamphlet, “These labels of race, gender, and sexuality effect, enable, and prevent me from accessing the erotic.”

The performance represented black women exploring their sexuality without any labels.

Cast member Mikayla Sharp ’18 said, “The Black female experience is one where we are viewed solely as sexual objects because of our thick thighs, plump lips and large booties. I view this performance as a way of forcing the world to see us for who we are, human.”

Photo courtesy of Nelson Dow/The Denisonian