photo by Gabe Gabriel
Ajani Brannum is a dance artist. Their practice encompasses performance, teaching, choreography, research (both scholarly and artistic), writing, and sound design. They were born in Anchorage, Alaska, where they began training in classical ballet. Moving to the east coast brought intensive study in modern techniques including Horton, Cunningham, and Graham. Since relocating to Los Angeles, Ajani has cultivated a dance practice rooted in improvisation; their work engages release techniques, perception-based performance practices, and other somatic modes.
Ajani has worked with several LA-based performance makers, including Dorothy Dubrule, Jennie Mary-Tai Liu (Grand Lady Dance House), Lionel Popkin, Eliott Reed, Nickels Sunshine, Kristianne Salcines, Alexx Shilling, and Kevin Williamson. They appeared as a guest artist with Cullberg Ballet in Deborah Hay’s Figure a Sea, and performed in the Los Angeles iteration of the Merce Cunningham Trust’s Night of 100 Solos: A Centenary Event in April 2019. They have shown their own choreography at Highways Performance Space, the Electric Lodge, Pieter, and NAVEL, among other venues.
An alum of the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities (Dance, 2009), Ajani graduated from Princeton University in 2013 (AB cum laude, English; Certificate, Dance) and completed a PhD in Culture and Performance in UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures / Dance.
photo by Gabe Gabriel
As a freelance performer, choreographer, teacher, and writer, I use a multi-faceted dance practice to wrestle with what I have inherited as an artist. I believe doing and making performance asks us to consider what makes movement possible. Approaching dance and dancing from various angles — now performing, now making, now writing or teaching — I leverage craft's ability to hold histories, shape the present, and create futures. I celebrate the work of dance, especially by using it as a tool for processing information about the world.
Improvisational thinking is the movement coursing through all my dance work. My choreography unfolds as conversations with music, images, history, and other cultural artifacts. Drawing from the dense tangle of social, cultural, political, and emotional information I already carry in my body, I use performance to process (and revise) both personal and collective understandings of these source materials.
In the classroom, I encourage students to approach dance as an open-ended experience, even (and especially!) when I teach codified techniques. Uncovering the value systems of favored styles, exploring private associations and histories, letting go of judgment, and naming personal goals are just a few of the ways I help students activate improvisational thinking in their own work.
When I’m away from the studio, my deeply embodied approach to writing and academic research helps me reflect on and expand these questions. My written work deals variously with my own practice, the creative practices of elder performers, and emergent questions of craft and performance in contemporary popular culture.
Regardless of the medium, my guiding questions remain the same: what tools are we using to body forth this moment, and why? What made it possible? What are we making happen? And where is this work taking us?