October 8, 2019

The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Dance presents When Birds Refused to Fly

The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Dance at Princeton University will present When Birds Refused to Fly, a new dance work by choreographer Olivier Tarpaga. Performances are on October 18 at 8:00 p.m., October 19 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and October 20 at 2:00 p.m. in the Hearst Dance Theater at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton University campus. A limited number of tickets are available to the public for each performance.

Olivier Tarpaga is artistic director of Nomad Express International MultiArts Festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, a 2018-19 Hearst Choreographer-in-Residence in the Program in Dance, and a Lecturer in Princeton’s Department of Music.

When Birds Refused to Fly, developed by Tarpaga while a Hearst Choreographer-in-Residence, uses a soundtrack created by the choreographer’s father’s band to visually connect the 1960s Sub-Saharan African independence movements to the painful fight for Civil Rights in the United States. The piece weaves dreams of freedom experienced concurrently on both sides of the Atlantic, held together by music from Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), a fusion of African, Cuban, European and American rhythms. This music inspires a dance performance featuring four visiting Burkinabe dancers from Ouagadougou who transform the emotional into a life force, and shattered illusions into promises for the future.

4 dancers onstage

Oliver Tarpaga’s new dance work, When Birds Refused to Fly, will be presented at Princeton University on October 18-20. Photo by Géry Barbot

When Birds Refused to Fly was developed in collaboration with Assistant Professor V. Mitch McEwen in Princeton’s School of Architecture as part of the spring 2019 Black Imagination Matters Incubator. This program featured two days of experimental architecture, art, and technology workshops and poetic symposia that culminated in live performances staged at the Architectural Laboratory (Embodied Computation Lab and Labatore) at Princeton. The Incubator serves as an intellectual platform for new thinking and making at the nexus of architecture, technology, the arts, and society engages academics, architects, artists, and robots at Princeton and beyond.

“The Hearst Choreographer-in-Residence program brings many rich experiences to our community,” notes Rebecca Lazier, Associate Director of the Program in Dance and Acting Director for 2019-20. “When Birds Refused to Fly is an especially exciting performance to present given its international scope and cross university collaborations with architect V. Mitch McEwen and the Music Department. Olivier has twice choreographed for Princeton Dance Festival and each process has been a transformative process for the students. We are thrilled his company will be on campus for the week and able to share this inspiring new work.”

In addition to his work with Nomad Express and at Princeton, Tarpaga is founder and artistic director of the internationally-acclaimed Dafra Drum and Dafra Kura Band and co-founder of Baker + Tarpaga Dance Project. He danced with David Rousseve/Reality from 2006 to 2009. In 2008, Tarpaga was commissioned by Zig Zag Ballet to choreograph Visage at the Rich Forum Stanford Center for the Arts in Connecticut. He has taught in the Program in Dance at Princeton, the Department of Dance of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, the School of Music of The Ohio State University, the Department of Drama and Dance at Kenyon College, Ohio, the Department of Dance at Denison University, Ohio, the University of Iowa, and the World Arts and Cultures Department at University of California Los Angeles. Tarpaga has performed and taught dance in more than 50 countries throughout Africa, Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australia. He performed as part of the Festival of the Arts that opened the Lewis Arts complex in October 2017.

This presentation of When Birds Refused to Fly was made possible by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It is also supported by Princeton’s Department of Music.

The Caroline Hearst Choreographer-in-Residence program, made possible by a gift from Margaret C. and William R. Hearst, III, is designed to foster the Program in Dance’s connections with the dance field. It provides selected professional choreographers with resources and a rich environment to develop their work and offers opportunities for students, faculty and staff to engage with diverse creative practices. The program, now in its third year, is designed to be flexible enough to create meaningful interaction between artists and students. Each Hearst artist develops engagement activities in coordination with the dance faculty in order to align with students’ interests and course work. The Hearst choreographers and the professional dancers in their companies have several points of contact with students over the course of their residencies.

Other recent Hearst Choreographers-in-Residence include Souleymane ‘Solo’ Badolo, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Shannon Gillen, Jessica Lang, Ralph Lemon, Jennifer Nugent and Paul Matteson, Karen Sherman, Raphael Xavier, and Abby Zbikowski, who will bring her new work developed during her residency, Radioactive Practice, to Princeton in May.

Tickets are $10 for students, $12 for seniors, and $12 general public in advance of show dates, $17 general public purchased the day of performances at the box office. Advance tickets are strongly recommended and available through the University Ticketing online at, in person at the box offices at Frist Campus Center and Lewis Arts complex, or by calling 609-258-9220.

For more information on the Program in Dance and the more than 100 other performances, exhibitions, readings, screenings, concerts and lectures offered each year by the Lewis Center for the Arts, most of them free, visit

Press Contact

Steve Runk
Director of Communications