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Douglass Theatre
Women Hold Up Half The Sky

It has been more than 30 years since "Women Hold Up Half the Sky" premiered in Macon.  Now, in just a matter of weeks, that groundbreaking production returns to Middle Georgia on the Douglass Theatre stage as one of its 90th anniversary events.

Terrie "Ajile" Axam, the show's creator, made a brief visit to the Douglass recently, where she talked  about the celebrated work.   

"I am very excited about the show being at the Douglass," said Axam, a former Maconite.

"Women Hold Up Half the Sky" began to take root in her college days at Princeton University, she explained, where she poured over a trove of slave narratives.

That fascination evolved into this rich, vital hybrid, which combines the depth of drama and the excitement of dance.

It is a "dancical", a theatrical, and a historic experience celebrating the story of black women, through dance and drama, set to music, poetry, visual arts, and live drums, notes the company's Website  Its music represents a mix of "contemporary jazz, African rhythms, Negro spirituals, and contemporary soul, with the poetry of African American writers Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolynn Brooks, June Jordan, Ntozake Shange, and Langston Hughes.

For more than this reason, Macon can take pride in Axam. She was the first person in the state of Georgia to receive a teacher’s certificate in dance.  A pioneer in her field, she established Total Dance/Dancical Productions, Inc. to provide dance instruction and the performing arts as well as celebrate African- American culture and artistry. 

Axam is credited with creating her own dance technique Mojah, a style influenced by the teachings of dance goddess Katherine Dunham as well as traditional West African movements.

Axam has added "Ajile" to her name, another Swahili term meaning "gift to our town."

When "Women Hold Up Half the Sky" premiered back in 1980, it cast a number of Maconites, such as Lonnie Miley, now a Macon city councilman, who, along with his twin brother Ronnie, was a dancer.

Miley said he is rather amazed about the show's continuing popularity.

"It is not often that you are a part of an original cast of a local production that goes on to be a national and international [prominence]," he said.  "For me, knowing that I was a part of the original cast says a lot." 

Noted Bibb county educator Palmira Braswell, 83, performed in the first production. Now retired, Braswell said this is an occasion to reflect upon her participation.

"I was one of the characters," she said. "I remember that Terri did a wonderful job and it was a lot of fun. For me, that was one of my dreams when I was much younger."

Now, a new generation of Middle Georgians can enjoy the production's return on Sunday, May 15, at 5 p.m.  This production will feature Atlanta's Total Dance Company, Master Drummer -- Oginga, special guests:  Penn State Dancers and dance Professor and Choreographer A. Kikora Austin Franklin. It is dedicated to noted community cultural leader, the late Mattie Dunn, a strong supporter of the Douglass Theatre. Tickets are $15. Group tickets are available as well. For more information, call 742-2000.

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Terry Axom
Terry Axom