In just four years, Okwae A. Miller has quickly established himself as a prominent voice in the Atlanta dance community, rooting his athletic movement with research into issues of personal identity. In works like 2016’s CARVEDimages:all of the women. in me. are tired and spring 2018’s The g[R]ay Boi, Miller and his dancers considered the cycles of spiritual exhaustion and renewal that often accompany the assertion of a marginalized identity. Miller furthers that research with his latest work, I call him.he[R], which runs November 16–18 at The Bakery. ArtsATL caught up with Miller to discuss the new piece in advance of its premiere.
ArtsATL: Tell us about the title of the show, I call him.he[R].
Okwae A. Miller: I call him.he[R] is a continuation of the work I’ve been doing over the past two years, focused on the politics of identity, specifically black gay identity. It follows The g[R]ay Boi, which was focused on the intersection of racism and homophobia as it applies to black gay men. It’s changing gears a little bit to focus on how we identify against masculinity and heteronormativity. Within the black gay community, when you’re a friend, I call you “my girl, my sister,” but on the back end, people often do think that men who identify as gay are “trying to be a woman.” Toxic masculinity has a place in the community.
ArtsATL: What’s in the performance? What will we see?
Miller: It’s a succulent trio. [laughs] My roommate keeps saying, “You just love that word.” But that’s the only way I can describe it. The work I do is very athletic, highly expressive, super provocative. I say “succulent” because it has a nice pull, that nice softness. You’ll see three beautiful dancers — Ben Stevenson, La’Tina Rowe, Lyric Cosby Johnson — in the Bakery, in the hangar, the large multipurpose space set up in an arena style. The music is a sound collage I’ve collaborated with local artists on. It’s nice and edgy. I pulled a lot of the text from Paris is Burning, which is one of the sources for their work. I like to think of it as a DJ set, a series of ideas that are laid out and complement the dance.
ArtsATL: Who are some of the artists you consider influences?
Miller: One of my favorites is Marcel Duchamp. He’s fantastic about the idea of process, what it is to make significance and meaning through process. I just love that. It’s important to have the final product, but how did you get there? It also changes how you approach your work, how you share your work, how you talk about your work. Definitely Martha Graham. That’s my girl. She’s one of those hugely influential artists. When I started dancing in college, I loved her work. She was 22 when she started dancing; she started dancing late. She was so narrative, but she also drew on her personal experiences and let that out on stage.
ArtsATL: You used to be a Work Room artist. [The Lucky Penny’s Work Room in East Point provided resident dance artists with affordable studio space from 2015–2018]. Can you talk about what that experience meant for you as an artist and the challenges you face now that the Work Room is no more?
Miller: I miss the Work Room. I was among the first artists. I loved it because I didn’t know what I was doing at first, but somehow I developed into an artist. I feel like it helped me grow and step out of my comfort zone. It made me want to do more. I’m just super grateful. It made me know my worth. No challenges. As far as the Work Room, I don’t think Blake [Beckham, Work Room founder] considers it a challenge to lose the Work Room. It was a project that concluded. That’s what she said to us. I was probably the only person in the room not crying. I was like, “This is a good thing. We’ve gained so many resources. We can really move forward. We did it before. This is just a place where we became comfortable.” I have space. I rehearse at the Southwest Arts Center. They’re super awesome and super available. They’ve been a great resource for me. There’s a dance studio and a black-box theater. It’s definitely a hidden gem as many of the arts centers are around town. I found out through word of mouth a few years ago, and I was able to ask if I could use the space.
ArtsATL: Is “Okwae A. Miller & Artists” a company?
Miller: I don’t really believe in institutions. We’re a group of collaborators. Okwae A. Miller & Artists is just the umbrella under which I do my projects and collaborate. I work on a project-by-project basis. It’s not really a company; it’s just the folks who come together to collaborate.
Okwae A. Miller & Artists present I call him.he[R] November 16–18 at The Bakery.