by Chance Morgan
Driving drums, a passionate poem, and symbols of black culture alongside domestic articles bring the audience into the world of Yvette Heyliger’s “Bridge to Baraka.” Ms. Heyliger, by way of her Black Arts Movement persona “Yvette X,” shares her journey as a black woman and an artist through her own experiences, excerpts of works by prominent Black Arts Movement artists and, interestingly, audience participation. Each stage of her journey, framed as chapters in an autobiography, addresses significant people’s lasting influence on her life. Ms. Heyliger discusses her father joining the Nation of Islam and abandoning his family, her mother raising three girls alone in white suburbia, and how she herself was treated by the white people around her. Throughout, Ms. Heyliger emphasizes her struggle to define her racial and cultural identity and the hurdles she faced, such as institutionalized racism, conflict and tension surrounding the Civil Rights movement, and even how her light skin tone and unique background were used to exclude her.
The show is engaging and has a lot of variety. Early on, the lights were brought up and Ms. Heyliger led the audience in an oath to observe the performance through appropriate cultural and contextual lenses, and to consider our emotional response accordingly.
What really stuck with me about “Bridge to Baraka” was the impression that I was simultaneously far removed from the intended audience (I am, after all, a young, middle‑class white man) and exactly the type of person who most needs to experience art such as this. It is impossible to expand our awareness without transcending our own experiences. “Bridge to Baraka” offered me a glimpse of a world and a journey far removed from my own.
“Bridge to Baraka” was compelling and intimate, and I wished for an even more detailed and expansive look into Ms. Heyliger’s experiences. It is a relevant and deeply personal story of identity, expression and courage that deserves attention, especially in this day and age. It exemplifies the message that Ms. Heyliger repeated throughout the performance about the Black Arts Movement: “By me, for me, and about me.” the self‑determination behind that sentiment is universally resonant.
“Bridge to Baraka”
Written and Performed by Yvette Heyliger
Director: Mario Giacalone
Composer: Larry Farrow
Co-Producer: Yvonne Farrow (Twinbiz)
Oct. 9 at 7:30pm
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
CHANCE MORGAN is a writer and director currently based in New Jersey. He has worked for Dorset Theatre Festival, Northern Stage, and Bay Street Theatre. He is a graduate of Colorado Mesa University’s theatre program, and spends his time developing his screenplays and musicals.