Oakland-based choreographer, author, actress and neighborhood organizer Nkeiruka Oruche grew up in Nigeria till age 14, and has traveled again many instances in her grownup life. However Oruche’s latest six-week tour of the nation with 21 folks in tow — together with her two kids and 6 members of her dance firm, Gbedu City Radio — was totally different.
“It’s a dream come true,” she lately advised The Chronicle throughout a video interview whereas she was nonetheless in Nigeria. “That is the primary time I’ve come again to Nigeria as an artist.”
A couple of week earlier than, in early December, Oruche had screened a video of her breakout dance manufacturing, “Combine Tape for the Useless & Gone #1,” to an viewers of Nigerian college college students. She stated they have been as enraptured because the stay viewers that skilled “Combine Tape’s” premiere at San Francisco’s CounterPulse final summer time.
Certainly, anybody who has seen Oruche’s joyful and brilliantly cross-cultural theatrical work is perhaps shocked that her confidence as an artist remains to be nascent. In early December, Oruche was named a Dance/USA artist fellow, an award given to solely two different Bay Space artists, Bhumi B. Patel and Muisi-kong Malonga. In 2020, Oruche was named a Yerba Buena Heart for the Arts 100 Honoree, an annual listing that celebrates “on a regular basis heroes” within the arts. However her artistic profession has been inseparable from her neighborhood work, and one thing of a shock to her.
She has a public well being diploma from San Francisco State College, which she stated she acquired as a result of she had promised her mother and father she’d change into a health care provider. However all of the whereas, she’d at all times made music and danced. After attending reveals at Dance Mission Theater and starting to show up to date Nigerian social dances to kids there, “I started to really feel like a double agent. I saved seeing how highly effective artwork might be to assist folks change their lives.”
“I used to be serving to artists be taught to do public well being issues, like maintain knowledge and statistics on their affect,” she added, “and I used to be serving to folks at locations just like the Boys and Women Membership develop artwork applications.”
This trajectory led to Oruche’s founding of the Afro City Society, an Oakland nonprofit that hosts Pan-African-influenced writing and dance workshops and kids’s applications.
“I’m a prolific project-involver individual,” she stated, “and all these workshops and initiatives have been orbiting one another and I noticed it’s all the identical factor: serving Black creatives, making an attempt to get folks from Pan-African city tradition speaking to one another.”
Her most up-to-date Nigerian tour has supplied time for deeper analysis into her ancestors, the Igbo folks, an ethnic group dominant in southeastern Nigeria. The primary installment of “Combine Tape” started the story of an Igbo girl, Ahamefula, who has died and should resolve, with the assistance of a form of grim reaper/shaman determine, whether or not to change into an ancestor.
Igbo traditions embrace exact burial and mourning practices particular to the life the individual has led, and Oruche plans to attract on her rising data to increase “Mixtape” and develop three extra installments, taking viewers into the spirit world and again to the human realm.
If future productions are something like “Mixtape #1,” they’ll be stuffed with roof-raising dances, heart-pumping music and ingenious humor. However Oruche’s integration of her Igbo analysis and neighborhood service additionally helps members of the Afro City Society honor and maintain ache in day-to-day life.
“It was post-Oscar Grant,” she stated, referring to the 22-year-old Black man shot and killed by a BART police officer in 2009. “I used to be out on the streets protesting and likewise considering, ‘How will we be indignant and combating but in addition maintain look after ourselves?’ We want totally different instruments. And I found that in Igbo tradition, spirituality may be very sensible, a life observe — every little thing is related. It helped me say that is what I may give again: Artwork as a device.”