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Cleo Parker Robinson Dance debuts social justice performance called 'Sacred Spaces?'

Cleo Parker Robinson Dance debuts social justice performance called 'Sacred Spaces?'
Cleo Parker Robinson Dance debuts social justice performance called 'Sacred Spaces?' 01:48

Three predominately Black churches in Louisiana were set on fire in 2019. On March 26, 2019, St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre was completely destroyed. Ten days later, two other historic Black churches were burned to the ground in Opelousas, Louisiana, Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. This violence against places of worship is an echo down history of church burnings that terrorized the Black community. In 1925, Shorter A.M.E. Church in Denver's Five Points Neighborhood was burned to the ground allegedly by the KKK. That church was rebuilt, and now is the home to Cleo Parker Robinson Dance.

Multi-media performance from Cleo Parker Robinson Dance and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra takes on violence of church burnings. CBS

The 2019 church fires, as well as, the Shorter Church building's history with fire, inspired the new dance collaboration "Sacred Spaces?". Jacqueline Lyle of Performing Arts Serving Acadiana in Louisiana was looking for a way to help heel her communities. She connected with Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, which is known for artivism, social justice art activism.

"I think that it's important that we really recognize that these things are still happening in our country," said Cleo Parker Robinson, Founder and Artistic Director of Cleo Parker Robinson Dance.

CBS4's Mekialaya White talks with Cleo Parker Robinson and Adonis Rose about their collaboration on "Sacred Spaces?". CBS
Cleo Parker Robinson Dance debuts social justice performance called 'Sacred Spaces?' 06:44

From there, they reached out to the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and Adonis Rose, the Artistic Director of NOJO and a Grammy award winning composer. They all traveled to Louisiana, and met with church members directly impacted by the fires. The goal was to develop a connection in understanding of the loss a community feels when its sacred space is destroyed out of hate.

Rose composed new music for the performance. It was his first time composing music for dance.

"They can expect to hear a musical rendition of the story, and what actually happened when the churches burned. And then they can see the musical work humanized by the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance company. So it's a beautiful piece of work," Rose told CBS News Colorado's Mekialaya White.

Then Parker Robinson got to work on choreography that embodied all the hurt, anger, frustration, sadness, fear, and perseverance that happens when a space of worship is violated.

"I was inspired by first of all the story, the idea, because sacred spaces can be anything, they can be, or course, our black churches, which has been historic. But it can also be mosques and synagogues, and it can be sacred ground by indigenous people. But it can also be our own bodies, the sacred spaces are bodies," Parker Robinson explained. "This work is just extraordinary because he really created a story line for me, as a choreographer, I has something to work with right then. So I followed the story line, and it was really pretty powerful.  We're going to end with a sense of healing and resolution, which we have to do for communities that have experienced these kinds of atrocities."


One man plead guilty to all three church fires in Louisiana in 2019. He was the 21-year-old son of a St. Landry Parish sheriff's deputy, and is currently serving 25-years in federal prison. He was also sentenced to $2.66 million in restitution.

LINK: Tickets & Information "Sacred Spaces?"

"Sacred Spaces?" premieres on Saturday, September 17 & Sunday, September 18, 2022 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. "Sacred Spaces?" will be performed in Lafayette, Louisiana and New Orleans at some point in the future.

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