Founded by Nicole Klaymoon in 2008, Embodiment Project (EP) is a hip-hop dance theater organization that offers dynamic programming in the following domains: 1.) Performance for the concert stage, in public spaces, and dance film 2.) Education and 3.) Community.
The company's original multi-media dance theater concerts employ street dance, live music, interactive video art, *documentary theater, and *choreo-poetry to explore complex issues including gender, racism, histories of trauma, and state violence.
The organization is committed to tackling timely questions like: How can dance convey the invisible narratives and histories of the body? How can we engage historically white spaces in a way that challenges white fragility and invites white consciousness? How can we bring movement to The Movement? EP celebrates concert dance stages as a platform for formidable change makers and leaders of social movements (e.g., Black Panthers, Black Lives Matter, Restorative Justice, and the hip hop movement).
Klaymoon follows in the footsteps of her longtime mentor, Rennie Harris, who blazed the trail in the U.S. concert dance landscape in by taking street dance out of it's traditional performance context and reinterpreting it as concert dance. Like Harris, Klaymoon accesses the sacred capacity of street dance as a language to articulate vulnerable autobiographical narratives about trauma that challenge hip-hop's commercial veneer. Beyond entertainment, EP engages audiences in themes many people want to avoid (and can if they are in a place of privilege). At the intersection of trauma research, conceptual live performance, and personal testimony, EP has innovated a specific approach to dance-making that emphasizes the sacred practice of voicing stories in an artfully exquisite way and in the context of community.
What sets EP apart from other hip hop companies is that it is comprised of street dancers of various styles (i.e., bboying/bgirling, waacking, house, vogueing, hip hop and popping) who found their way to concert dance through battling and club dancing. Free-styling is core to Klaymoon's methodology; she captures the raw ethos of street dance and translates this to the stage. The community-audience is a partner in the work; they add their experiences to the ones illuminated on stage. Company members are Klaymoon's creative collaborators and community and their stories and embodied experiences have also served as content for the final productions.
Since 2015 EP has collaborated with Oakland-based racial equity filmmaker and founder of World Trust, Shakti Butler. In 2018 EP danced in Shakti Butler's film, Healing Justice, which explores how the restorative justice practice can disrupt the school to pipeline. Simultaneously, Klaymoon built on this collaboration by using Healing Justice, a springboard for visceral movement and musical invention, catalyzing an original evening length work of documentary hip-hop theater, Music of the Actualized Child. This partnership has increased visibility for the company, growing EP's audience base of educators, organizers, and mental health leaders, as well as creating a platform (video/digital content) for the work itself.
EP's eight year history of partnering with Oakland's acclaimed singer/songwriter Valerie Troutt and her live house ensemble MoonCandy has played a key role in shaping the spiritual aesthetics of EP's work. Klaymoon and Troutt partnered on six original evening length productions scored by Troutt's original compositions. In 2015, EP premiered Chalk Outlines, which explores police and state-sanctioned violence against Black and Brown people through hip-hop dance to original live music. Ms. Troutt received an Isadora Duncan Award in Outstanding Music for this production. EP has also created works to live performances by acclaimed vocalists including Gina Breadlove, Amikaela Gaston, and Solas b. Lalgee, OvaSoul7, and Christal Monea Hall.
*Documentary theater is an interview approach to creating original theatrical material from the precise words spoken.
*Choreo-poetry is the emotive intersection of spoken word and dance.
EP is committed to creating community through its educational programming, which provides a holistic approach to sharing street dance knowledge. Since 2010, EP has held a weekly community dance class at Dance Mission Theater (SF) called "House Method," which is taught by Klaymoon, EP company members, and featuring guest classes with house dance historians. In 2014 EP partnered with the ODC dance school to found the youth hip-hop dance company called SEEDS.
On tour outside of San Francisco, EP offers lecture demonstrations, panels, and workshops. These programs offer a lens into EP's multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to storytelling and creating political and autobiographical performance and storytelling.
EP also contributes to the creation of culture in the SF Bay Area through its free programming. In 2009, EP hosted a free weekly street dance event called the REBIRTH at La Pena Cultural Center (Berkeley) to celebrate female identified hip hop artists. REBIRTH brought together free-style dancers, DJ's, graffiti/mural artists, and MC's. In 2015 EP presented Rennie Harris' 18th Annual Illadelph Legends Hip Hop Festival, produced for the first time in the Bay Area. This multi-city weeklong festival's mission is to honor, preserve, and disseminate the history and tradition of hip-hop dance. The festival featured renowned hip-hop dance innovators from across the country. In 2018, EP built on this legacy and gained momentum for our work through the first rendition of Get Free Festival, another a weeklong multi-city hip-hop dance intensive rooted in the artistry of free-styling, battling and healing through community practices.
For over a decade, EP has served a as bridge between the street dance and the concert dance communities. Street dance was pioneered and developed in Black and Brown communities in the 1970s. Despite 30+ years of innovation, these dance forms are too rarely presented as well-resourced concert dance. EP is committed to getting dance institutions to invest in the talent and vision, drawing on 30 years of dance legacy. EP is accountable to their audiences by providing both free and low ticketed programming in community arts spaces year round in SF and the East Bay.
Embodiment Project's work draws in young people, especially youth of color who are interested in street dance and may be practitioners themselves. In 2016 EP partnered with Sarah Crowell of Destiny Arts Center (DAC), a nonprofit violence prevention, arts education, and cultural center in the heart of Oakland. Together EP and DAC created Seed Language: A New Identity, through documentary theater and premiered at the A.C.T. Geary Theater in San Francisco. Destiny youth embodied the formidable voices of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Black Panther Party, and the hip hop movement, to initiate a timely conversation on race, privilege, power and healing.
EP has also partnered with G.R.A.C.E Africa in Embu, Kenya to explore street dance and poetry to disseminate information about sexual health as well as challenge stigma about HIV/AIDS. Additionally EP performed in a children's hospital and at the San Francisco General Hospital in partnership with the AIDS Research project as well as at Dance Mission Theater in 2018 first as a part of COMHAR, an AIDS Awareness event. EP has also collaborated on several projects lead by Anne Bluethenthal with ABD Productions, Senator Hotel, and Tenderloin National Forest called SKYWATCHERS, which is a community arts performance that partnered with formerly homeless residents of San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood. EP seeks to infuse hope and pathways to liberation through coalitions and collaborations that uphold stories of resilience.