On the World Stage

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Danez Smith

Danez Smith, here performing on campus, is leading the UW hip hop ensemble that is participating in a global collaboration. Photos: Jeff Miller

The UW’s student hip hop ensemble is picked for an elite project.

UW-Madison’s First Wave Hip Hop Theater Ensemble (see On Wisconsin, Fall 2007) is in the middle of an intense long-distance relationship.

The group’s students are collaborating with Junges Theater Basel in Switzerland to create a performance for Contacting the World 2010, an award-winning theater project linking young groups from around the globe. First Wave, the country’s first college learning community devoted to urban art, is among just twelve performance companies taking part — and the only American group joining those from England, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Jamaica, Iran, Indonesia, and India.

“The borders of our university are the borders of the world, and this is a huge manifestation of that to me,” says Danez Smith x’11, an English education major serving as First Wave’s student ambassador. A Swiss counterpart visited Madison in April, and Smith traveled to Switzerland in May, beginning a collaboration to build bridges and break down barriers.

“A lot of that stuff may sound cliché, but it’s also a lot of the work that needs to be done in this day and age,” Smith says.

Though the ensembles won’t physically be together until they perform in Manchester, England in July, they are sharing creative processes and influencing one another’s performances via online social media. By the time First Wave meets the Basel group — which is using Shakespeare’s Richard III as inspiration — the UW’s spoken word poets, MCs, dancers, singers, and actors will be at the apex of a creative partnership focusing on the theme of power.

“We’re dealing with patriarchy, worship, absurdity, and the line between madness and brilliance,” Smith says. “We’re dealing with power struggles.”

Published in the Summer 2010 issue

Tags: Humanities, International, Students

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