Performance piece looks at black women's role in history

As she rolled, Kimberly Barrett's horned headpiece got caught in the black fabric that was draped over her body.

But Barrett, who was dancing as Death, didn't die a slow death on the stage.

"Just take it off," Wayland Anderson, the piece's choreographer, said over the pulse of a minimalist beat. "Make it work."

As Barrett wrestled the headpiece off, the narrator counted numbers, his voice speaking at the slow pace of impending doom. Death continued to make its way toward her counterpart, Nikita M. Burks, who was dancing the part of Amara, a vibrantly dressed woman who is perilously close to the end.

When the two meet, Amara dies an electrifying - and perfectly timed - death that is punctuated by a thunderous clap. (If you go to a performance, pay attention to Amara's eyes, where you'll find the electricity in death.)

The marriage of dance and words hits doubly hard in this performance.

The piece, titled "Black Sky," is part of the Dancewordz production "AFRICA," which will be performed tonight and Saturday at the CMFA ArtSpace.

Dancewordz, which fuses poetry and dance, is the work of Anderson and poet H.G. Robert. "AFRICA" is commentary on Black History Month, a reflective month that has been historically dominated by figures such Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Thurgood Marshall.

Besides Harriet Tubman, how many women share the name recognition of the aforementioned men?

"It's always about the men," Robert said. "We wanted to show, with this piece, women are not the weaker gender."

Five women and two girls make up the cast. The women play multiple roles in the story that spans generations and continents. The costumes, an important character element in terms of color and styling, were created by Agnes Gyenes.

The women, who dance barefoot and in point shoes, aren't just dancers. Their roles require silent character acting, their movements precisely timed to the spoken words piped into the space.

Dancewordz is known for creating complex performance pieces, but what comes first: the choreography or the words?

"There's no formula," Robert said.

In other words, the performance isn't as simple as black and white.

"When it comes to artistic fusion, there's no clear-cut way," he continued.

Robert produces the music as well as the words. At the Valentine's Day rehearsal, he also assisted with props.

Anderson, a former corps member of the Columbia City Ballet, whose last roll with the company was as Darius Rucker in the "The Hootie & The Blowfish Ballet," spent most of his time on the stage directing.

"I have to see that strength," Anderson said.

He stomped on the floor, the sound resonating throughout the space. He wanted a big mark.

A mark to be precisely timed.

"Otherwise it doesn't work," he continued.

His words were heeded.