The tags still dangled from the berets and sunglasses that Dimensions Dance Theater members wore Wednesday night as they rehearsed for the “Black Panther Project,” an interpretation of the party’s rise and impact in Oakland and later the nation and the world.
Accompanied by a live jazz band led by Glen Pearson, with punctuation from four djembe drummers, the dancing crackled with the urgency of 1960s dance styles and artfully invoked militancy by choreographing the street drills the Panthers became known for.
Three actors moved the narrative, demonstrating that the party’s militancy came out of a desire to protect communities from police violence and that the free breakfast programs and preschools arose from love for the people.
Dimensions Director Deborah Vaughan reworked a 1996 version of the piece because she “thought (the Panthers’) intentions were noble and their contribution left a legacy of activism in neighborhoods in the Bay Area and ultimately around the world,” she said.
“People only seem to know about their demise, but not what they did,” she continued. “I thought that people who are moving into Oakland don’t know what Oakland is and how it became Oakland.”
This 2016 version, which Vaughan sees as “an offering, not a solution,” emphasizes the Panthers’ humanistic activities, like the breakfast program, and shines a light on women’s roles, crediting one of the original Panthers, musician Tarika Lewis, for information on those early days.
The performance also cannot help but show the link between the Panthers’ battle against police brutality and the current Black Lives Matter movement.
“We are bringing truth to the stage,” Vaughan said.
The Panther Project can be seen in part at Oakland’s Life is Living Festival, Saturday, Oct. 8 at DeFremery Park at 1:15 p.m., Eastside Cultural Arts Center on Oct. 30 at 3 p.m., 81st Avenue Library on Nov. 12 at 2 p.m. and in full at Malonga Center, Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance.