Struggling with a painful story – and adding some glam


“Our task was to tackle the layered history of space,” Garza said, “and because it was such an underutilized space, to revitalize it as an asset to the community.”

The house was in a sorry state when the gay advocacy group BIPOC arrived. Decades ago, the city organized tours of historic homes here. Since then, it has largely fallen into disuse.

“I swept the dead skin cells from Esek Hopkins in a shovel,” Garza joked.

Their residency culminates this month with outdoor performances of their original dance opera, “The Historical Fantasy of Esek Hopkins”.

Haus of Glitter dance company co-directors (left to right) Anthony Andrade, Matt Garza, Steven Choummalaithong, Trent Lee and Assitan Coulibaly.MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Until this century, Hopkins had, in many ways, been portrayed as a local hero. A Providence college bears his name. A statue in his honor, erected in 1891, stands at the intersection of Branch Avenue and Charles Street.

Yet the Continental Congress fired him from his post in the navy for disobeying orders. Worse, in the mid-1760s, Hopkins commanded the slave ship Sally, commanded by the Brown brothers. Research on Sally’s trip was at the heart of the 2006 Brown University study Slavery and Justice Report, who assessed the school’s dependence on the slave trade.

Of the 196 West Africans that the Sally embarked on, 109 perished before the end of the voyage. Hopkins and his crew called off a rebellion, murdering eight captives and injuring others. Among the others, “Some drowned, some starved and some sick and dyed,” Hopkins wrote in his journal, which Brown published. in line.

“Those who jumped off the ship may have been trying to get back to shore, or just turn to the water,” Andrade said, “that was their way of regaining freedom after months of captivity.”

“The Historical Fantasy of Esek Hopkins” wonders what life would be like if slavery never happened, taking the story of a captive Sally and imagining its full scope and legacy. The people at Haus of Glitter see her as a hero.

The dance opera takes a direct look at the trauma that Hopkins, and the system he worked for, inflicted on enslaved people. Ultimately, it’s also a celebration of resilience and mythical imagination.

“It’s a story of mermaids, history, lineage and resistance,” Garza said. “He goes around the world. It’s a dance party.

They frame the performance as a community healing ritual.

From left to right: Alexx Temena, Trent Lee, Assitan Coulibaly, April Brown, Jess Brown (standing) and Simony Rendesde in Haus of Glitter Dance Company's
From left to right: Alexx Temena, Trent Lee, Assitan Coulibaly, April Brown, Jess Brown (standing) and Simony Rendesde in “The Historical Fantasy of Esek Hopkins” by Haus of Glitter Dance Company.STEPHANIE ALVAREZ-EWENS

“We want all the young people in town to see the story of a character they know by name,” Garza said. “We want it to be empowering for black and brown kids to see, for gay kids to see, for young women to see. “

Haus of Glitter members also planted a community garden, held yoga and meditation classes, and performed cleansing rituals in the house. They instituted “residences”, inviting other black and brown artists to come and rest. Rest is part of the ethic they have established by living in the house.

“We lead with the intention of taking care of ourselves and taking care of each other,” Coulibaly said. “And that, basically, is not a practice that we have inherited as individuals from BIPOC.”

Taking care of themselves and others extends to taking care of their community. The artists accomplished a lot during their residency, according to Micah Salkind, head of special projects for the city’s Art, Culture + Tourism department.

“The amount of work the collective has done is unprecedented in terms of the depth and density of the public programs and the thinking they have devoted to the legacy of this complicated character,” said Salkind.

The group is hoping to address the placement of the Hopkins statue and work to clear his name from the college – a move the Providence school board voted for, but it has yet to happen.

“The institutional work of modifying a memorial really touches the deep inner workings of systems design,” Garza said. “Historic preservation is an industry that benefits from maintaining symbols of white supremacy.”

The artists of Haus of Glitter do not erase the story of Esek Hopkins. They extend it.

“We like to say that we are the most historic new thing that has happened in this house. And none of us murdered anyone, ”Garza said. “As far as we’re concerned, we eclipse the legacy of Esek Hopkins with flying colors. “


Presented by the Haus of Glitter Dance Company at Esek Hopkins House, 97 Admiral St., Providence, September 9-17. Tickets start at $ 15.

Cate McQuaid can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.

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