Preview fundraiser set for July 14, 2018
By Cassandra Miller
Afro House is one of Baltimore’s most intriguing arts collectives. The group's founders, GBCA members themselves, seek to intertwine classical disciplines like opera with futuristic performance art and modern musical genres. Afro House has presented a 90-minute “sci-fi tone poem” about reinvigorating a barren planet through sound (2015 Charm City Fringe selection Ebon Kojo: The Last Tribe), composed blip-bloop music for a human bubble dance at Light City, and more. Now, Afro House is presenting an entirely new genre with its latest project: Afro Punk Ballet, which has a preview performance July 14 at Single Carrot Theatre.
Scott and Alisha Patterson, the married founders of the music-driven performance art ensemble, ended up in Baltimore by chance, but immediately knew it was the city for them. Residents of D.C. for 10 years, they came to Baltimore for a party one night and got lost in Station North. “We were like, ‘whoa! This is an arts district!,’” Alisha says, remembering how they had just started thinking about moving from D.C. when they discovered the siren song of Baltimore’s thriving arts scene, which coaxed them into making the city home. “We felt like we belonged here. We felt like Baltimore drew us in, and we haven’t looked back.”
They’ve only been looking forward, doing creative project after creative project. And if they feel like Baltimore drew them in, they have in turn drawn Baltimore in—literally into their Lauraville home. “We love this city,” Alisha says. “It’s been so good to us.” For more than a year, they have been hosting intimate house concerts, when they offer friends and strangers the same hospitality and artistic solace they’ve received from Baltimore.
About a dozen people sat on folding chairs and couches in the Patterson’s living room on a sultry evening this May as Afro House performed music from its genre-bending futuristic opera ballet. Scott on piano, plus two musicians and three opera singers filled the home with soaring voices and notes as thunder clapped and rain crescendoed outside during a storm.
Nature was the perfect percussionist to Afro House’s dramatic futuristic Afro Punk Ballet, which focuses on two sisters unable to agree on how to handle the catastrophic consequences of their brilliant father’s creation of a second sun in a story that blends African spirituality, the Afro Punk movement, 20th century French music, southern gospel music and contemporary ballet choreography.
“Opera and ballet are so grand and epic. The stories that Scott wants to tell are grand and epic, and those genres are a good fit for this piece,” says Alisha, who is managing director of Afro House.
Afro Punk Ballet will utilize an ensemble of primarily performers of color. “We’re using classically trained opera singers, who have talked about how they don’t get opportunities to be in stories about people who look like them—people of color,” Alisha says. Afro Punk Ballet is “totally outside Don Giovanni and Carmen, but they’re bringing that incredible classical training and taking the risk to explore what this is going to become.”
Afro House’s show is also different, because every classically trained ballet dancer will sing opera and every classically trained opera singer will dance ballet. The musicians will do everything. “It’s an exploration of stepping outside everyone’s artistic boundary,” Scott says. “You may have come in as a musician, but you’re now going to be a singer and a dancer. I really don’t want the separation, and the people involved I think are tired of it too. We want it to be an ensemble, a real ensemble. Much more like an acting company or a dance troupe than like anything musical.”
Scott has decades of experience as a professional composer of opera, soul and contemporary music. Alisha has a passion for arts administration, having managed the box office at D.C.’s Studio Theatre for a number of years in addition to her government job. Rounding out Afro House’s executive team are choreographer (and Scott’s brother) Preston Patterson, who is a professional dancer and company member of Ballet Austin; and Associate Artistic Director Eric Styles, a performance artist and Jesuit rector at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Styles is also a college classmate of Alisha and Scott’s from the University of Cincinnati, where the three were involved in theater, particularly theater for artists of color.
Preston and Eric have been staying in Baltimore with Scott and Alisha almost every summer since Afro House’s and the Patterson’s move to the city five years ago. The group has been toying with the Afro Punk Ballet idea for a few years and finally decided to go for it last year, when Scott connected with Evan Moritz of Annex Theatre to do a co-production.
This July is a first step in the fully actualized production of the project, which is planned for 2020. Afro House will perform a preview of Afro Punk Ballet as a fundraiser to support the full-scale production on Saturday, July 14, 2018 at Single Carrot Theatre. The fundraiser, titled Two Suns and a Bunch of Punks will feature different segments of the opera ballet. More performances will be Oct. 4-27, 2018 at Le Mondo at 406 N. Howard St. in Baltimore. For tickets and more information, visit www.afrohouse.org.
PHOTOS BY KINTZ