”Living in the aftermath of 9/11, I feel an urgent and renewed engagement with what it means to be an American. But that engagement is a troubling one because of a long-standing estrangement between American civic ideals and American civic practice. This project is my response to this reality. I take it as a civic responsibility to think about these things out loud, in the ritualized forum of theater and public dialogue.” —Sekou Sundiata
Poet/theater artist and musician
(blessing the boats, Udu) along with a dozen musicians, singers, and spoken-word artists returns to the Walker Art Center to develop his latest work—a candid contemplation of America’s national identity and its guiding mythologies. Uniting art and civic dialogue through song cycles, poems, monologues, and moving images,
the 51st (dream) state
ponders America’s definition of itself in an era of unprecedented global power and asks what it means to be both a citizen and an individual in our complex society. The work features an all-star ensemble of singers and musicians, as well as new music composed by Ani DiFranco, Graham Haynes, and others. Sekou Sundiata performs the 51st (dream) state on Friday–Saturday, March 31–April 1, at 8 pm in the William and Nadine McGuire Theater. A Q&A with the artists follows each performance.
In addition to the developmental residency and preview performances of the 51st (dream) state, Sundiata will be in residence for one week, offering public and private civic engagement activities that are designed to involve participants in honest and critical conversation about citizenship and civic consciousness. These activities, designed and led by Sundiata, are intended to inspire fresh and critical perceptions linked to the most useful ideas about imagination, democracy, and citizenship. Through these events, the Walker, in partnership with Sundiata, continues its exploration of how to link issues embedded in the work it presents and artistically derived social processes to questions of importance to diverse communities. The Walker’s civic engagement initiative, undertaken over a number of years and through a broad range of artistic approaches, seeks to link contemporary artists more closely to daily life and the concerns of citizens and communities.
Sekou Sundiata is a poet who writes for print, performance, music, and theater. Born in Harlem, Sundiata came of age as an artist during the Black Arts/Black Aesthetic movement of the 1960s and 1970s. He has been a Sundance Institute Screenwriting Fellow, a Columbia University Revson Fellow, a Master Artist-in-Residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts (Florida), and the first Writer-in-Residence at the New School University in New York. He was featured in the Bill Moyers’ PBS series on poetry, “The Language of Life,” and as part of Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam on HBO. Sundiata is currently a professor at Eugene Lang College in New York City. He has written and performed in the highly acclaimed performance theater works—The Circle Unbroken is a Hard Bop, which toured nationally and received three AUDELCO Awards and a BESSIE Award; The Mystery of Love, commissioned and produced by New Voices/New Visions at Aaron Davis Hall in New York City and the American Music Theater Festival in Philadelphia; and Udu, a music theater work produced by 651 ARTS in Brooklyn and presented by the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven; the Walker Art Center and Penumbra Theater in Minneapolis; Flynn Center in Burlington, VT; the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire; and Miami-Dade Community College in Florida.
Sundiata’s blessing the boats brings the story of five tumultuous years of his life into perspective as it relates his experience with the life threatening illness and recovery of kidney failure and organ transplant. This work premiered in November 2002 and continues to tour nationally.
Sundiata has recorded and performed his poetry with a range of musicians, including Craig Harris, David Murray, Nona Hendryx, and Vernon Reid. His first recording, The Blue Oneness of Dreams (Mouth Almighty/Mercury), and its successor, longstoryshort (Righteous Babe Records), are both rich with the sounds of blues, funk, jazz, and African and Afro-Caribbean percussion. He has toured internationally with his band; in 2001, they performed in 23 cities in the United States and Canada as part of Ani DiFranco’s “Rhythm and News Tour.”
Sundiata’s residency is presented in partnership with the Department of Theater Arts and Dance/University of Minnesota; St. Olaf College; Macalaster College; the Perpich Center for Arts Education; the Minnesota Spoken Word Association (MNSWA); KFAI Radio; and the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
Community Sings: Vocal/Music Workshop
Thursday, March 23, 6:30 pm
Free, but reservations are recommended: 612.375.7600
Star Tribune Foundation Art Lab
Experience a music-making workshop led by spoken-word artist Sekou Sundiata. Along with cast members from Sundiata’s recent work the 51st (dream) state, participants will sing a variety of well-known American folk, popular, traditional, and patriotic songs to engage in a critical conversation about America.
Open Rehearsal: the 51st (dream) state
Tuesday, March 28, 7 pm
Free, but reservations are recommended: 612.375.7600
William and Nadine McGuire Theater
Exactly what does it take to realize a theatrical production for the McGuire stage? Get a behind-the-scenes look and ask questions of the artists following the rehearsal.
Tickets to Sekou Sundiata’s the 51st (dream) state are $15 ($12 Walker members) and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600.