WASHINGTON, DC (January 10, 2014) -- Howard University’s Department of Theatre Arts has been awarded $275,000 for a new dance commission by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art as part of a multiyear series of programming, Connecting the Gems of the Indian Ocean: From Oman to East Africa.
The dance commission, celebrating the cross-cultural influences of Oman and East Africa, will showcase the choreography of Ray Mercer, esteemed principal dancer from Broadway’s “The Lion King.” Connecting the Gems of the Indian Ocean: From Oman to East Africa will make its world premier at Howard University, Cramton Auditorium, April 11 – 12, 2014, at 7:30 p.m.
The dance commission will feature Howard University students, faculty and professional dancers (to include Howard University alumni dance majors) from the Washington area. Additional programming for Connecting the Gems of the Indian Ocean will include:
- Traditional and newly commissioned dance and music performances based on contemporary and historical connections between Oman and East Africa.
- An art educators’ exchange program between the National Museum of African Art, Bait Al Zubair Museum Bait Al Baranda Museum, Sultan Qaboos University and the National Museum of Oman.
- A lecture series presenting lectures by Omani artists and cultural scholars, virtual exhibition, cross-cultural exchange and hands-on art workshops that will allow local U.S. teachers to broaden their students’ knowledge of Omani art.
- A video documentary on the collaborative work in Oman that will feature the influences connecting Oman and East Africa.
- Hands-on public workshops on calligraphy and Majmar craft painting, which is popular in Oman.
- A virtual exhibition of 19th- and 20th-century Omani postcards held in the museum’s Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives.
- A celebratory look at Swahili traditions, including the art of spoken word and history and a performing arts program with several U.S. partners, including the Kennedy Center.
- A fully illustrated catalog, Connecting the Gems of the Indian Ocean: From Oman to East Africa, that will be available in 2015. It will include essays and photographs about the project.
With a population of about 4 million, the Sultanate of Oman is a country in southwest Asia on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It borders the United Arab Emirates in the northwest, Saudi Arabia in the west and Yemen in the southwest. The coast is formed by the Arabian Sea in the south and east, and the Gulf of Oman in the northeast. Oman’s monarchy is ruled by Sultan Qaboos of Oman.
Mercer is a native of Omaha, NE. He is currently in the Broadway cast of The Lion King. Mercer started his dance training at the age of 17 at the University of New Orleans, in Chicago and in New York. He has danced with Deeply Rooted Dance Theater Chicago and the Boston Ballet (guest artist). He has worked with Aretha Franklin, Rod Stewart, Kevin “Iega” Jeff, George Faison, Louis Johnson and Garth Fagan.
He was awarded Joffrey Ballet's Choreographers of Color Award 2012 and Pensacola Ballet Choreographers Award. Mercer was a 2011 Capezio Ace Awards finalist. He won Broadway’s Gypsy of the Year Award for best onstage performance in 2005, 2008 and 2012, the Michigan Dance Council Award and the Black Theater Alliance Award/Chicagofor his choreography.
Mercer was the resident choreographer for All-City Dance Company in Detroit and Chicago. He has worked with several outreach programs, including the Alvin Ailey Summer Camp Program, Ailey Fordham B.F.A Program, Joffrey Ballet Educational Program, E-Moves Choreographers Showcase (New York) and the National High School Dance Exchange.
He has set ballets on various companies and universities across the country, such as Philadanco, Dayton Contemporary Dance Co., Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Pensacola Ballet, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance and DRA: Dancers Responding to AIDS/New York. In addition, he has taught classes and master dance series classes all over the world. Mercer was recently acknowledged in The New York Times, the Chicago Sun-Times and Movmnt Magazine for his choreography. (raymercerdance.com)
Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university that is comprised of 13 schools and colleges. Students pursue studies in more than 120 areas leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. Since 1998, the University has produced two Rhodes Scholars, two Truman Scholars, a Marshall Scholar, 30 Fulbright Scholars and 11 Pickering Fellows. Howard also produces more on campus African-American Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, call 202-238-2330, or visit the University's Web site at www.howard.edu.