The First Day

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An evocative dance interpretation of Elizabeth Eckford and the Little Rock Nine’s momentous step to desegregate Central High

Sixty-three years ago today, Elizabeth Eckford was one of nine black students to further the civil rights movement by enrolling at the historically segregated Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas. The historic images of her courageously walking through an enraged mob of white students, teachers and parents, have been burned into the collective consciousness of activists for equality around the world.

“The silhouettes she leaves behind suggest a moment in history that echoes through time”

The First Day, which was directed by Barnaby Roper and performed by Kendie Jones, is a dance interpretation of Eckford’s walk that day. Its monochrome aesthetic is an evocative nod towards the black-and-white images of Eckford’s public ordeal, which was captured by press photographers and republished in papers internationally.

«I was blown away by Kendie Jones,» says Roper. “Not just because she is the spitting image of Elizabeth but also because she is such an amazing dancer.” Jones’ movements are peaceable and serene as she sails past tides of invisible bodies on a residential street. Enhanced by a magnetic soundtrack courtesy of award-winning musician and producer Flying Lotus, our heroine transitions into a liberatory dance with pixelated fragments of her former self suspended in her wake.

“Now more than ever that we need to remember and celebrate the strength of that young girl”

“Our dancer is not breaking up in the film, rather she is leaving her presence,” says Roper, who has a penchant for merging emotive character studies with video art. “The silhouettes she leaves behind suggest a moment in history that echoes through time.”

By solely focussing on Eckford’s fortitude and stoicism that day, Roper’s film is a visualization of how hatred can be left to the annals of history, while the actions of individuals like Eckford and the rest of the Little Rock Nine will live on to embolden future generations.

“Now more than ever that we need to remember and celebrate the strength of that young girl walking to school,” says Roper. “Each and every one of us are equal to one another and everyone deserves equality.”September 4, 2020

CONTRIBUTORS

Barnaby Roper


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