UH DANCE FELLOW TO STAGE SITE-SPECIFIC PERFORMANCES CELEBRATING STREET BASKETBALL CULTURE
Key’Aira Lockett’s [ HOME TEAM ] will be performed on street basketball courts in six cities next summer.
Like many artists, the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic were challenging for dancer and choreographer Key’Aira Lockett. With studios closed due to ongoing lockdowns, Lockett—currently the University of Houston’s Cynthia Woods-Mitchell Dance Fellow—found herself holed up in her Boston apartment, unsure of what the future would hold. During these difficult months, a nearby city park became her saving grace.
“It was really hard for me to take a step away from the studio and do everything at home in my tiny apartment in Boston with terrible carpet,” Lockett said. “I was just getting kind of depressed and I started to go outside and I had this neighborhood park that had an outdoor basketball court and an outdoor baseball field. And I had started dancing outside, not tying it to a mood or anything at that point, just kind of seeing it as a space for me to explore.”
Quickly, Lockett’s outdoor dancing attracted audiences—and helped her reimagine what a performance space can be.
“You have these people taking walks in the park, exercising in the park, walking their dogs, watching their kids play on the playground, and then they would all come and watch me improv on the basketball court or on the baseball field,” Lockett said.
“I'm usually typically a really shy person, I just kept going and showing up at the park and people kept coming and watching and I thought that that was kind of fascinating because it wasn't really planned. And so I understood that people were craving community.”
“Even though I'm from Dallas, this was kind of one of the first times in Boston where I felt at home in my body as a dancer, as a choreographer, as a maker.”
It was these early pandemic improv sessions that inspired Lockett’s forthcoming work [ HOME TEAM ], a site-specific production slated to be performed on street basketball courts in six different cities in the summer of 2023. [ HOME TEAM ] will feature original choreography from Lockett and will be performed in collaboration with Mckinley Willis, Charles Michael Patterson, Kylie Jefferson, Demetrius Burns, and actress Exodia Demosthene.
Lockett said her park performances helped her realize the important roles that community spaces like outdoor basketball courts play in contemporary culture.
“The more I travel, there's a court in every neighborhood. It's not just the predominantly black neighborhoods.” Lockett said. “I would say it's an ode to community spaces where we are allowed to discover our gifts and our talents and our stardom.”
“It's spaces like this where black youth see their importance, and see how their contribution to the community can make a difference, or see where they fit in the community, or see what role they play.”
Lockett said that the development of [ HOME TEAM ] took on a more personal significance in the wake of the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a relative who was murdered in a racially motivated hate crime while jogging in Georgia in 2020. Arbery’s murder inspired nationwide criticism and condemnation of racial profiling and related violence.
“I learned with the world when a video leaked of him going on a jog and him being hunted down. And my family learned with the world that that's what happened. And I looked at him and I was just like, ‘Wow, he looks just like my brother, my older brother,’” Lockett said,
Lockett recalled attending a family reunion in Georgia prior to Arbery’s death where Arbery was present—and playing basketball with family members.
“I was talking to my grandmother one day and I asked her, ‘Are you sure Ahmaud was at the family reunion?’ She said, ‘Yes, I'm sure, he was outside playing basketball with your brother.”
“The last time I was in the presence of Ahmaud, just knowing that he was on the basketball court, I think that that spoke to me in a way where it was just like, this is why I feel so at home.”
Lockett aims to produce [ HOME TEAM ] with funds from the Midnight Oil Collective, a new cooperative supported by the Yale Innovation and Entrepreneurship Law Clinic that seeks to empower artists to raise funds through venture capital-like approaches.
Lockett was recently accepted into the 2022-2023 cohort of the Midnight Oil Collective. Along with 13 other artists, she will complete a series of courses designed to improve financial literacy and that recast the artists as CEO's to enable them to learn how to manage their MOC funding, while also learning how to raise funds for projects more effectively.
Following completion of this coursework, Lockett will present a proof of concept on [ HOME TEAM ], including a business model, marketing plan, and more. Based on this presentation, Lockett stands to receive a grant of up to $1 million to produce [ HOME TEAM ].
Lockett said she’s excited to enlist the help of friends and collaborators to make [ HOME TEAM ] a reality.
“I have my own home team of dancers, producers, people that I've worked with in the past, and to be able to bring them on such a big project is so exciting because it's like we're not just performing this—this idea of community—but we're creating it, and we're creating it in order to perform it,” Lockett said.
“This idea of [ HOME TEAM ] is this idea that we have this home court advantage,” Lockett said.
“Just this feeling of being home, of stepping into our light, and really just feeling powerful there, unapologetically.”