The 10th Annual Moonshine can be described as something necessary for those who do not often experience brown and black culture. In celebration of Black History Month, Moonshine uses its platform to tell stories of sadness, redemption and overall appreciation of our ancestors.
As I look through my program to find close friends, I notice how many white people are in the audience. I try to piece together why more than half of the audience is not brown or black people, but I quickly find the significance in the space that they bring. Moonshine is a way to foster black and brown culture while giving a glimpse into the daily struggles that we faced before we could all sit in a room together. A part of me wishes more people of color would be in the audience, but we do not need to reiterate culture to a community that built it.
As the crowd begins to fill the rest of the room, I hear a white girl whisper to her friend, “I’m only here so Chris thinks I’m interested and invested, and he’ll like me.” I sit on this statement, feeling upset and defeated, until the commencement of the show. To not bother to understand the significance of this show is why racial progress has diminished at UW-Madison.
The lights dim and the opening performance is by various students in an African dance class here at UW-Madison. It is important to note that most of the students in this class are not of color and the same applies to the next performance by the hip-hop dance class. Both of the opening dance performances are to an upbeat tempo that invites the audience into the space.
Host and professor Chris Walker welcomes the audience to the 10th Annual Moonshine. He explains in vague detail what the performances will encompass, and then lets the performances speak for themselves. First Wave’s 9th Cohort member Jamie Dawson opens the show with a rendition of a spoken word piece, “Key that Freedom Rings.” The piece focuses on the topic of freedom in America, or the lack thereof.
The structure of the show is timed precisely to make the transitions smooth and steady. A solo dance performance by Tiffany Merritt-Brown expertly takes us on a journey through time. The performance speaks about finding home and adding new pieces of armor to yourself in the process. There is emptiness in a home that does not welcome you.
Mariam Coker’s “Comets,” invokes black strength and is a personal favorite of the night. Coker tells us just why the black body is out of this world and why America chooses to make it a shooting target, and the courage that it takes to be alive and of color. She says “black boy has skin like the night sky,” and that today police only wish upon us.
A string of inclusive performances by First Wave’s 9th Cohort handles the topics of slavery and police brutality. Kynala Phillips performs George Gershwin’s “Summertime” in the presentation of what it means to be of color and living. Phillips’ performance is followed by a moving monologue, “They Like To Have Me Indoors,” written and performed by Maryam Muhammad. The monologue is breathtaking and sharp. Every line makes you wonder the segregation that existed between a household slave and a field working slave. As Muhammad looks into the distance to prepare dinner for her master, “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday echoes in the background. The song is performed by Jamie Dawson and the rendition makes the audience wonder how people of color have grown to become the strange fruit. “Whip Her” is a piece performed by Lucien Parker and Mar’Quaan Logan, addressing the difficulty of having to whip another slave or of being killed by your master. The piece is followed by “Police Brutality,” performed by Jamie Dawson and Eneale Pickett. As one of the most relevant topics, the poem poses the question of whether to stay and help a friend that is being mistreated by the police, or to run away and keep yourself safe and most likely alive.
As the lights grow darker, the room is static. Silence is quickly interrupted by a piece that handles the loss of someone and the difficulty of bringing them back. “Faith” is written and performed expertly by Tiffany Ike.
To bring a more calming spirit to the room, a dance choreographed by Chris Walker and performed by Janelle Bentley takes on an expedition of self and the shifts that may cause us to find or lose ourselves. As the performance comes to an end, Dantrell Cotton’s rendition of “A Song for You” by Ray Charles moves the audience to a complete halt.
The energy in the room is heavy with questions, with hearts and with minds that speak of experiences that shaped our culture today. “Troubled Water” is a dance performance that follows; the performance addresses the representation of diversity in culture, gender and sexuality.
After traveling through various stages of culture exploration, Moonshine brings us full-circle with a closing performance by Kynala Phillips of “Home” from popular film “The Wiz.”
Moonshine is a necessary means of cultural awareness. Without a show like Moonshine, these topics would otherwise not be addressed in these types of spaces. During the performances, I noticed the heart in these topics, the compassion that lies in-between the daily hardships that our ancestors had to face. I noticed the uncomfortability of some of the white audience members in the crowd. Some did not know how to feel or how to process what was occurring on stage, but the reality of this was that people of color had to live these stories daily. There is no escape from these topics because they are still relevant today. Moonshine does an excellent job of addressing these issues and celebrating the culture and people that made it possible to stand here today and speak freely about them. It’s safe to say that Black History Month would not have been the same without a show like Moonshine.