The Black Iris Project will celebrate the centennial of Nelson Mandela’s birth (July 18, 1918) in New York City with a special free performance of MADIBA this summer. Presented by City Parks Foundation's SummerStage, the one-night-only performance will take place on Thursday, August 16, 2018 at the Richard Rogers Amphitheater at Marcus Garvey Park. Also to be featured on the program will be the world premiere of A Mother’s Rite, a poignant ballet developed & choreographed by The Black Iris Project’s founder Jeremy McQueen set to a contemporary musical arrangement of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. A Mother's Rite was co-commissioned through the The Bronx Museum of the Arts Dance and Visual Arts Collaborative Commissioning Program and 651 ARTS, with additional support provided by Vineyards Arts Project.

Based on the life of the humanitarian and political icon Nelson “Madiba” Mandela, MADIBA is a classical ballet that takes Mandela’s experience as an avid activist and encourages others to discover the value and purpose in their lives just as he did, despite his 27-year prison sentence. Paralleling Mandela’s teachings, MADIBA invokes the sense that each individual can and should believe that their life makes a positive difference in the world. This story—told through the intersection of movement, music, and aesthetic—works to empower any audience members who have ever felt ignored or rejected by society to reclaim their hope and create change.

The Black Iris Project, personally selected by guest curator and American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland, recently completed an acclaimed week of performances of Jeremy McQueen’s socially-relevant classical ballet, MADIBA, at the historic John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, as part of the Ballet Across America series in April 2017. 

MADIBA elevates Black men and women by featuring Black artists in various outstanding artistic capacities. Presenting a cast of 14 dancers from world-class ballet companies, MADIBA’s story was most recently led by Washington Ballet's Andile Ndlovu, a native of Johannesburg, as Nelson Mandela. At the Kennedy Center Opera House, MADIBA was accompanied by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra with guest conductor Nathan Fifield at its helm. The ballet’s original classical score, written by award-winning composer Carman Moore, was originally commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra solely as an orchestral composition, and premiered in February 2015 at Carnegie Hall to immense accolades. Rounding out this Black cadre of artisans are Yale School of Drama alumnus Montana Levi Blanco and Alan C. Edwards as costume designer and lighting designer, respectively. Off-stage, MADIBA is comprised of an entire team of artistic collaborators who are Black men.

MADIBA’s success began in July 2016, when The Black Iris Project held a sold out preview performance and discussion, with members of the ballet's creative team, at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture moderated by arts activist Susan Fales-Hill. With generous support from the Rockefeller Brothers FundMADIBA was developed over the course of a year, including a 10-day developmental residency at the Rockefeller Brother’s Pocantico Estate, and premiered on July 27, 2016 within The Black Iris Project’s debut self-produced New York season at New York Live Arts.

In addition to MADIBA, The Black Iris Project will present the world premiere of A Mother's Rite. In 1955, Mamie Till Mobley made a decision that shifted the way the American psyche processes the murder of Black sons and daughters. In choosing to have Emmett's casket open and photos of her slain son's mangled face broadcast to the world, a mother’s grief—a Black mother’s nightmare—was made real for the world to experience. Sixty-two years later, the killing of Black bodies still plays in the quotidian and their mothers' mourning is laid bare for social witnessing. This work seeks to document, hold, and deal with that trauma. What does it mean to grieve with (or for) a society that stole your child? Performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer and Princess Grace Award recipient Courtney Celeste Spears, A Mother’s Rite is thirty-seven minutes in length, set to a four-handed piano arrangement of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring performed by the popular piano duo Anderson & Roe. and will explore one mother’s journey through stages of grief after being thrust into the spotlight by way of her son's racially motivated murder.

Co-commissioned through The Bronx Museum of the Arts’ Dance and Visual Arts Collaborative Commissioning Program (BxMA Co-Lab) with additional development through residencies and partnerships with the Vineyard Arts Project, Success Academy North Harlem, A. Phillip Randolph High School, 651 Arts, and the Kentucky Center for Performing Arts, A Mother’s Rite’s creative team includes; lighting design by Yale School of Drama graduate Alan C. Edwards, and an original libretto by accomplished playwright Angelica Chéri. Additional support for A Mother’s Rite has been made possible through Pentacle’s ART: Administrative Resource Team Fellowship.