Credit: Tracy J. Lee

Unlike musicians, dancers never put their instruments down. That’s especially true of Red Clay Dance, where the intersection of art and activism falls under a luminous spotlight. Red Clay performances are instigations as well as entertainment, and have been since founder Vershawn Sanders-Ward brought the company to Chicago in 2011, where it made its local premiere at a dance concert at Grand Crossing’s Harold Washington Cultural Center. (A Chicago native, Sanders-Ward founded the company in Brooklyn in 2008; it’s now based in Hyde Park.) Red Clay’s passionate “artivists” look to the vast African diaspora for inspiration in tackling social justice issues and illuminating history. An especially stunning recent example is Sanders-Ward’s #SayHerName, a testimony to the life and death of Sandra Bland, performed by a dancer clad in an orange jumpsuit. Sanders-Ward steers Red Clay’s professional company and its academy students through a process of research, creation, and refinement, turning performances into consciousness-raising calls for action. That’s an aesthetic you won’t find at strictly performative dance companies. For more info go to