Internationally acclaimed dance company Urban Bush Women performs “Haint Blu,” an ensemble dance-theater work seeped in memory and magic, presented by the Yard at the Orange Peel Bakery in Aquinnah. The title references the color used to paint front porches in the South to ward off bad spirits. The site-responsive, community-driven, immersive performance is an offering of collective healing through remembering, reclaiming, releasing, and restoring. “Haint Blu” has been developed and performed in four other cities (New Orleans, Miami, North Adams, and New York City), with Martha’s Vineyard being the final leg of the tour.
Co-artistic directors Chanon Judson and Mame Diarra Speis have taken a bold step bridging the company’s concert dance and community engagement practices while maintaining the social integrity and artistic rigor that have become the company’s hallmarks. This work continues a 40-year history of exploring new and better ways to effectively work in and with community. The Martha’s Vineyard version, as all versions of “Haint Blu,” was developed in collaboration with local partners who have shared their personal, familial, and regional stories and histories in order to inform and enrich the choreographic and installation design of the work.
In addition to the Martha’s Vineyard community partners highlighted below, Urban Bush Women also wishes to recognize and thank The Yard, Elaine Weintraub and Larry Jones of the African American Heritage Trail, Kristina Hook of the Wampanoag Tribal Council, the Aquinnah Cultural Center, Carole Vadal, Jannette Vanderhoop, and Michael Jones.
“Haint Blu” runs August 9 through 12, at 7 pm at Orange Peel Bakery, 22 State Road, Aquinnah. TIckets can be purchased at dancetheyard.org.
Pia Monique Murray is a choreographer, performer, teacher, arts administrator, stage, tour/company manager, rehearsal assistant, and creative producer with Urban Bush Women.
Behind the ‘blu’
Islanders support the Urban Bush Women’s production.
Lee Jackson Van Allen, Shearer Cottage
“All those years pretty much from the time it was purchased Shearer Cottage has been run by women.”
Charles and Henrietta Merchant Shearer, the great-grandparents of Lee Van Allen, purchased their home overlooking Baptist Temple Park in 1903. Henrietta opened a laundry business on the premises to support her family. In 1912 the couple expanded their home to create Shearer Cottage, a 12-room seasonal inn that catered specifically to African Americans at a time when most other establishments on the Island would not. When Henrietta passed, Charles went on to run the business with his daughters’ support. His oldest daughter Sadie ran the inn for nearly 50 years, into her 80s. Many artists and activists frequented the inn, its Southern-inspired daily menus were a huge draw, and it became known for impromptu performances.
Shearer Cottage has a legacy of being mostly led by the women of the family. After Sadie passed, the inn was run by a string of granddaughters: Liz White, Doris Jackson (Lee’s mother), Miriam, and Louise. Lee was running the inn up until the COVID pandemic; her son is now the main proprietor. Though currently undergoing renovations, Shearer Cottage continues to be owned and operated by family members. Lee and her daughter Loren have both been fans and supporters of Urban Bush Women for a number of years, and have been instrumental in sharing the rich history of Black women-led proprietorship on the Island and the significance of Shearer Cottage for African American history.
Allessandra Bradley-Burns, Black Joy House
“And I realized… that is the whole point of being here… there were tremendous expectations of us and this gift of this property and what we should do with it.”
125 Seaview, now known as Black Joy House, was originally owned by the Slaughter family, a Black family with deep communal ties to Oak Bluffs. The matriarch Bernice Slaughter, often called the Island Queen, was known for her Sunday afternoon backyard parties throughout the 1940s and 50s. Legend has it that if you received an invitation at the start of the summer, the invitation was open to you all summer long. Yet if you were disinvited at any point, you would have to wait until the next summer and hope to be reinvited. The Slaughter family eventually sold the home to a non-Black family on the Island, from whom Allessandra and her wife, Melissa Bradley, rented the house for 10 years before buying it. The couple feels they are charged with continuing the legacy of the Slaughter family by creating sacred gathering space for people of color on the Island.
“[T]his whole idea of space, mental space, spiritual space, physical space is critical in BIPOC communities because… for so much of our lives we’ve been taken from our spaces moved into somebody else’s space and or had other people move into our space and take it away from us,” Bradley-Burns says. Black Joy House proudly proclaims to be “all about the positivity, the joy, and the celebration.” Most of the responses have been positive, and they are grateful to provide a place to gather for the community. They welcomed Urban Bush Women to the house in June 2022 as part of the research and development of “Haint Blu” in connection to Oak Bluffs.
Juli Vanderhoop, Orange Peel Bakery
“If we were to build something that the people love, then we can exist here and make a living.” (The MV Times, Jan. 24, 2017)
Orange Peel Bakery, owned and operated by Julianne “Juli” Vanderhoop, is a native-owned eatery on Wampanoag lands in Aquinnah — and so much more. The bakery, one of few eateries open year-round catering to locals, is also a space for performances and community gatherings. When Juli returned to the Island in 2005 after being away for nearly 20 years, she yearned to reconnect with the home that had become estranged. Orange Peel Bakery is not only a destination for culinary delights inspired by traditions from around the world, it is a haven in the woods where goods are purchased on an honor system, inviting folks to show up with their best selves. And they do! The bakery has become known and loved for its Pizza Nights, when folks are invited to bring their own toppings and make customized personal pizzas in the huge stone oven. Juli provides the dough, sauce, and cheese; guests bring whatever else they desire.
Orange Peel Bakery also hosts a variety of performances on their backyard stage, hosts culinary experts from near and far to expand the local cuisine, trains local youth in baking, is a site where Wampanoag elders pass down age-old traditions like the Herring Run to the next generation, and a space where anyone of any walk of life can feel welcomed and receive nourishment. Juli has truly built something special that people in Martha’s Vineyard not only love, but value.
Orange Peel has been a partner in the development of “Haint Blu” in Martha’s Vineyard for three years. They hosted a work-in-progress sharing of “Haint Blu” in June 2022, and will host the full performance this August.