This Hamilton hip-hop show explores the ‘uncomfortable’ realities of systemic racism, oppression
A Hamilton choreographer is exploring the “uncomfortable realities” of inequality, systemic racism, misogyny, homophobia and other social justice issues — all through the lens of hip-hop and dance.
Josh Taylor said he got the idea for The Uncomfortable Project some years ago while talking to his friend and fellow choreographer Janessa Pudwell about his desire to get more people talking about these issues.
“Often we avoid these issues because they make us uncomfortable and this is why we don’t want to address these elephants in the room,” he told CBC Hamilton.
“But the fact is that for marginalized people, they don’t have a choice. We don’t have a choice of addressing these elephants. They are addressed for you as early as five to six years old,” he said.
Taylor developed the show during the COVID-19 pandemic and it debuted in January 2023, having a three-day sold-out run.
The show is back at Theatre Aquarius this week, with shows Thursday to Saturday starting at 7:30 p.m.
“It is an inter-arts dance show — inter-arts being poetry, dancing, hip-hop, MCs and rappers,” Taylor said.
Taylor said the show is an opportunity to look back at hip-hop and examine how it may uphold some of these “weapons” of oppression that are in everyday life.
Taylor is immersed in the genre, being the owner of the hip-hop dance studio, Defining Movement Dance on Hamilton Mountain. He works with dancers throughout Ontario, creates choreography for music videos, dance teams and theatre companies and cites street dance, contemporary and Latin dance as influences.
Taylor said The Uncomfortable Project is “a conversation starter,” and he hopes it will make people feel “more united in action,” after “seeing some of these issues presented in a way that they might not have seen [them] presented before.”
Each performance will be followed by a brief chat with the cast to further the conversation.
“It’s to build empathy, it’s to build understanding, and I find that art is an excellent way for people to connect on these issues,” he added, saying last year’s shows “did really well.”
Part of the proceeds also went toward setting up a dance bursary that will help families who have kids who are interested in dancing but who face financial burdens.
‘You could just feel the energy’
Mary Francis Moore, artistic director at Theatre Aquarius, saw the show last year with her children.
“I brought my two teenage sons to the project and it hit them the way it hit me … it’s just really powerful, it’s very accessible. Josh is just a master at what he does and his connection to an audience is just such a gift,” Francis Moore told CBC Hamilton.
“I saw it on a day where there were a lot of high school students, and you could just feel the energy, the way that the students responded, like, you could hear a pin drop, and then you could hear them whooping and hollering and answering back.
“It invites audience engagement and it invites audience response and it’s so powerful and so strong and it’s filled with a lot of emotion, and I think the audience shares that emotion when they watch it,” she added.
Francis Moore said it’s a real honour to have an artist of Taylor’s calibre at Theatre Aquarius, where he’s serving as the artist in residence for 2024.
“We are thrilled to have him and I just think the City of Hamilton is so lucky to have an artist like Josh doing the work he does,” she said.
“His artistic practice is a way of life and I just think he’s someone to be celebrated, and I’m so proud that he is working with us. It means a lot to us to have his trust in this partnership.”
‘Really special artists’
Taylor said the show’s cast is “incredible.”
“All the dancers, the musicians, the poets, the people who have put their time and energy and artistry into the show are really, really special artists,” Taylor said.
“I’m so proud to be able to work with them, I’m honoured to work with them and I’m looking forward to doing it again and hopefully, hopefully people come and see it and connect.”
The Uncomfortable Project is created and directed by Taylor, who also dances and performs poetry. Alyssa Nedich serves as assistant director and stage manager. Other contributing artists are:
Original live music
Leon ‘Eklipz’ Robinson
Jade Jager Clark
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.