MOJA is here again, kicking off the fall festival season with a week and a half of events celebrating African and Caribbean cultures in the Lowcountry. The dance, visual arts, literary, and other events cover a wide range of the African-American experience from the early slavery era to today. Organized by the City of Charleston each year, MOJA attracts artists and performers from across the Southeast. "MOJA is as important as SEWE and Spoleto Piccolo," says festival coordinator Romaine Marion-Heyward. "Preservation of any ethnic group is vital because you have to know where you've been to know where you're going."
There's plenty happening during the 10-day festival, but here are a few events that are your best bets.
Dayton Contemporary Dance Company Fri. Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m. $20 Rose Maree Myers Theater Charleston County School of the Arts North Charleston
The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC) of Dayton, Ohio is reviving MOJA's dance program, which was noticeably absent last year. The company, which is one of the largest contemporary companies outside New York and Chicago, is diverse, yet rooted in African-American dance. DCDC's 14 dancers perform pieces by major 20th-century choreographers, like Alvin Ailey and Ulysses Dove, as well as contemporary and fusion artists like hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris. For MOJA, the company will perform works in four distinctive styles.
Classical Encounter with Tiffany Rice, Seth Gilliard, and Friends Thurs. Oct. 1, 6 p.m. $11 City Gallery at Waterfront Park Downtown
When two top-notch violinists like Tiffany Rice and Seth Gilliard team up for a performance, it's bound to be something you don't want to miss. Rice, who graduated from the prestigious Indiana University with a master's in violin performance, heads up the string department at Ashley Hall School and also regularly performs with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. Gilliard is becoming known for his inventive hip-hop and pop violin arrangements, although he's also a classically trained violinist with a degree from Furman University. The two will perform works for two violins and keyboard.
Five Guys Named Moe Oct. 3-5 at 8 p.m. Oct. 5, 6 at 3 p.m. $36/adults, $33/seniors and military, $29/students, $16/student rush Dock Street Theatre Downtown
Midtown Productions presents this musical featuring songs by the influential singer, songwriter, and bandleader Louis Jordan. The show is based on a musical short that Jordan wrote in 1943 and is chock full of singing, dancing, and good humor. The story revolves around Nomax, a broke, lonely, and thirsty guy who's having trouble giving up the bottle. The five Moes of the title appear to help him through his troubles. But this is no downer play, says Midtown's Sheri Grace Wenger. "Louis Jordan was as much a comedian as he was a musician and songwriter, so many of his songs are musical comedy sketches." Director Ryan Ahlert has assembled a cast of both newcomers and seasoned local actors like Christian Duboise (PURE's The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity) and Andre Hinds (What If? Productions' The Practice Child).
Charles DeSaussure Memorial Exhibition: Through My Eyes Opening reception Thurs. Oct. 3, 5-7 p.m. On view Sept. 26-Oct. 30. Free The Art Institute of Charleston Downtown
Charleston lost a beloved artist this summer when painter Charles DeSaussure passed away. DeSaussure's vibrant handiwork could not only be seen in galleries in the Lowcountry, Washington, D.C., and New York, but also on buildings like Martha Lou's, Jestine's Kitchen, and Alluette's, all of which hired him to create hand-lettered signs or murals. The MOJA Festival is honoring DeSaussure's legacy with a memorial exhibition showing a dozen or so of his paintings, and if you're only familiar with his sign-painting work, you'll want to stop by.
The Spirit of Place: Traditions of the Agrarian Home in Barbados and the Lowcountry On view Sept. 7-Oct. 6. Free The City Gallery at Waterfront Park Downtown
It's not often that architecture takes center stage at the City Gallery, but during this year's MOJA the waterfront space will be filled with photographs of architecture from the Caribbean and the Lowcountry's Sea Islands. The centerpiece of the show will be a model of a Barbadian chattel house — a movable, wooden dwelling that could be folded in upon itself and carted away — constructed by students at the American College of the Building Arts. Featured artists are photographer and preservationist Julia Cart, who is represented by the Rebekah Jacob Gallery, and the Barbados photographer Bob Kiss. The artists' work will be accompanied by historical documentation of the dwellings by the Avery Research Center and the Slave Dwelling Project.
Of course, there are also the annual events like the Caribbean Street Parade and Opening Ceremonies, the Reggae Block Parade, and the MOJA finale, all of which bring out the crowds for dancing, mingling, and Caribbean and Gullah food. Also this year, the Dart Library will be designated a Historical Site for its educational importance to the African-American community — it was the first free library for African-Americans in Charleston.
Many of the events are free and all are open to the public. See the full schedule and purchase tickets at mojafestival.com, or call the City of Charleston's Office of Cultural Affairs at (843) 724-7305.