Created by Esie Mensah
Shades is an original dance/theatre show that continues to evolve from its debut in September 2016. It speaks about the issues of Shadism within communities of color focused from the lens of the black community. Shades is a piece that offers the opportunity to start a conversation of healing across all communities.
SHADES re-examines the wound that is colourism – prejudice against a person based on the fairness, or darkness of their skin colour – and how it inflicts on the Black community, specifically undoing the stitches in Mensah’s and six other dancers’ personal lives. Set against choreography and text, SHADES breaks the code of silence, compelling the audience to face how such brutality, whether on a global scale with colonization, or an offhand remark from a loved one, permeates generations.
“This production has gone through many iterations but was always led by the spiritual guidance of my ancestors. Discovering as I went along to understand how to create a dance theatre work about shadeism. I give thanks to my dancers for their bravery to realize their truth in a way I never expected it.” – Esie Mensah
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Shades, challenges the issues of discrimination by communities of color against themselves and examines a group mentality that has plagued countries for over four centuries. We see countless examples of the great lengths people around the world have taken to permanently alter their skin tone in the quest for a distorted beauty ideal; but what message does this send to the next generation of young boys and girls and more importantly why is this happening? What has been imbedded into our collective psyche that created an environment for us to believe these significant changes were beneficial?
We are saturated with images and ideas of the preferred body shape, hair texture, facial features, skin colour and shade; but Shadeism is an issue far beyond beauty…it lies within old ideals that fundamentally determine what we perceive as desirable. Creator Esie Mensah and her cast examine the question of how our communities became fractured. How did we start to see our own brothers or sisters as inferior because of the shade of their skin? Throughout this performance, we hope to address the roots, realities and effects of Shadeism that will ultimately lead us towards a path of reconciliation and healing.
Shades performance at IPP Fall Dance North 2019 – Photos by Ömer Yükseker
Shades Performance February 2018 – Photos by Dahlia Kats
Shades Performance 2016 – Photos by E.S. Cheah Photography
ABOUT THE DOCUMENTARY
Dancing Through Shades is a documentary that follows Ghanaian/Canadian choreographer Esie Mensah as she tries to start a cross-cultural discussion on shadeism through dance. The film charts Esie through the creative process as she gathers experiences from people in her community and reflects them back through art to create Shades of Blackness – a performance and debate where the audience become part of the show to start a discussion across races and colors. But will her audience be ready to talk and will society be willing to listen to these often uncomfortable truths?
Shadeism is the discrimination of a person based on their skin tone – an uncontrollable aspect of one’s body but one that holds weighty stereotypes from beauty standards to intelligence. This discrimination of one’s skin tone is experienced in many forms within communities of color. Known as shadeism or colorism it can segregate communities and separate families yet few who experience it talk about it openly and even fewer outside these communities know of its existence. Ghanaian/Canadian Choreographer Esie Mensah has dark skin and though her performances and teaching have taken her around the world, she’s been told by a black director she’s ‘too dark’ for television and lost work due to the shade of her skin. Personally as well as professionally Esie has witnessed shadeism in her community where even lighter skinned children are favored over their darker siblings by their parents and elders, aware of what opportunities and access they probably face due to their lighter shade.
Esie found that few people discuss shadeism and many outside of communities of color fail to recognize it. She feels that the visceral power of dance will be an effective way to communicate and reflect shadeism which led her to begin creating Shades of Blackness – a performance piece of dance and debate where movement and dialogue depict incidences of this discrimination and prejudice, followed by an audience talkback on shadeism and its impact. This film charts Esie’s journey and that of her dancers as they create a provocative piece to bring about a discussion between all races and shades to move beyond skin tone discrimination.
Dancing Through Shades is currently in development looking to go into production in the summer of 2017.
Documentary Link Here