An Interview with Amaniyea Payne

The Courier-News
Written by Randall G. Mielke
Published: January 31, 2013
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Amaniyea Payne, the artistic director of the Chicago-based Muntu Dance Theatre, believes that her dance troupe exemplifies how society should try to live in harmony. “With the times we are living in, it makes us dwell on safety and coming together,” Payne said. “In our show, we focus on how we come together in the spirit of dance. The nature of the culture is that it is all inclusive; to come together in the spirit of unity.”

Muntu will perform on Feb. 7 at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora.

Muntu is regarded for its innovative repertory, preserving traditional African dance while creating new works that build on African, Caribbean and African-American cultural traditions. “Four male dancers, four female dancers and four on-stage musicians perform,” Payne said. “It is entertaining and educational. There are demonstrations and some explanations. Also, sometimes the show is more interactive. Audience members may be asked to participate.”

Founded in 1972, the Muntu Dance Theatre performs authentic and progressive interpretations of contemporary and ancient African and African-American dance, music, and folklore. Muntu often brings audience members out of their seats and into the aisles with its mixture of dance, rhythm and song.
“There is usually dancing in the aisles,” said Payne, who has been artistic director for the troupe for 25 years. “Some of that comes with coaxing, but we are noted for that. We are noted for our infectious energy.”

Over the years as artistic director, Payne has seen some changes with the dance company. “I am an African America born in the United States, so I bring another entity to the company,” she said. “We look at dance from a global perspective. We have a more global perspective now and more international linkages.”

Payne and the dance troupe also consider themselves educators. They believe it is essential to transmit the art of dance to audiences. One of the goals of the troupe is to share the works with the broadest possible audience. “I’d like to think the entertaining and education is 50/50,” said Payne of a show’s balance. “We strive to get audiences involved and to be informed.”

Payne’s greatest satisfaction comes from working with the young dancers. “What really touches me is when I see the young people grow and expand in the field of dance,” she said. “Sometimes it is difficult to get younger people to finish a goal. But when you see them move into the field of dance, and eventually they can perform, or teach or move into other aspects of dance or other careers, that is satisfying.”

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