Dr. Layla Zami is an innovative academic and artist working with words, music, performance, and video. Born in Paris in 1985, Dr. Zami obtained a magna cum laude Doctorate in Transdisciplinary Gender Studies from Humboldt-University in Berlin. She also holds an M.A. from the Sciences Po Paris School of International Affairs and a Saxophone Diploma from the Music Conservatory of Le Mans.

A former Visiting Research Scholar at Columbia University (IRWGS) and at UCSD (Department of Theatre & Dance), Zami publishes in English, French and German, and is the co-editor of an anthology on intersectionality called InterdepenDenken (w_orten&meer, Berlin). She received several awards and grants from institutions such as the MLA, German Ministry of Education (ELES Doctoral Talents Fellowships), French Ministry of Youth, Humboldt University. Currently an Assistant Producer for the International Human Rights Art Festival, she also serves on the Dance/NYC Symposium Programming Committee, as well as on the Task Force advising on their Immigrant Artists Research Initiative.

As a Resident Artist with Oxana Chi & Ensemble Xinren, Zami performed at universities, theaters and festivals in the USA, France, Germany, Martinique, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Finland and the UK. Together with Oxana Chi, Dr. Zami initiated and co-chaired events such as the International Moving Memory Symposium-Festival (Berlin, Technical University 2016) and Black Herstory Night (Dixon Place Theater NYC, 2017).

Oxana Chi is a German choreographer, dancer, filmmaker, curator, author and mentor. She is a 2018-2018 Artist-in-Residence at Abrons Arts Center through their AIRspace Grant for Performing Artists. As the Founder and Director of Oxana Chi & Ensemble Xinren, she created 19 productions, including two commissioned works for Humboldt-University among which I Step On Air. Drawing inspiration from her travels to 40 countries in Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, Africa, the Pacific, and America, Oxana developed her own performance language, a kinesthetic fusion blending such diverse techniques as classical European and classical Javanese dance, German Ausdruckstanz, Western African styles, hip hop, and Chinese Wushu. Her performances reflect cross-sectional collaborations, and often explore intersectional perspectives on the materiality and possibility of emotions, healing, trauma, and existence.

Oxana Chi presented works at festivals, theaters, and universities in Germany, France, India, Indonesia, Finland, Taiwan, Martinique, Turkey, Singapore and the UK in venues such as Goldsmith University, Maison Heinrich-Heine, the Royal site Mankunegarang, Dansoir Karine Saporta, HAU-Theater, Werkstatt der Kulturen, Tampere University. In New York, Chi performed at New York University / Jack Crystal Theater, Technical University, Dixon Place, City University of New York, Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, Movement Research @ Judson Church, LaMaMa, University Settlement, LAVA and Triskelion Arts. Her art has received several public and private awards and grants, and is featured in many publications and films. Chi was honored as an Ambassador of Peace at DOSHIMA 2016 in Jakarta for her art.


Concept, Choreography, Dance: Oxana Chi

Live-Music and Composition: Layla Zami (spoken words, saxophone, kalimba, sounds)

Text written by May Ayim, translated into English by Prof. Marion Kraft

Text spoken by Layla Zami

Duration: 45 mi

Link: http://oxanachi.de/productions/i-step-on-air.html

The performance I Step On Air was originally conceived by Oxana Chi in 2012 as a commissioned work for Humboldt-University (Cultural & Gender Studies, Dr. Natasha Kelly, May-Ayim-Seminar). It carries into the future the life and legacy of May Ayim (1960-1996), who was an internationally celebrated Afro-German poet, performer, linguist, scholar, and feminist activist, also known in Europe as “the Afro-German Audre Lorde.” In this dance-music-word-performance, the audience is invited to reflect upon May Ayim’s afterlife, and to commemorate and celebrate her performative talent, lifelong community engagement and struggle for liberation and solidarity.

The energetic and graceful choreography draws from Oxana’s self-created ‘fusion’ dance, blending such various styles as Romani Flamenco, West African and South American styles with contemporary techniques and dramatic expressions. Layla Zami performs poetry by May Ayim, as well as her own musical compositions alternating between jazzy saxophone airs, experimental sounds, and soothing melodies on Senegalese and Mexican kalimbas.

Embedding their own cultural heritage with May Ayim’s legacy, the performers use a broad emotional range to express a strong socially conscious message. I Step On Air creates an intimate and liberating universe centered on transnational Afro-German perspectives.

Tour history includes: Technical University Berlin / International Symposium Moving Memory, Bielefeld University, Mainz University, City University of New York, Rutgers University, Homestory Deutschland Exhibition Opening Hamburg, Black History Month Berlin at Werkstatt der Kulturen Theater, Dixon Place Theater, La Maison d’Art Harlem, Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, Rroma Aether Theater Berlin, New Delhi NCUI Auditorium & Convention Centre, Pangea Haus, Casa de las Culturas latino-americanas Berlin, Yeditepe University Istanbul


Re-membering May Ayim: Afro-German Dance as Empowerment in Oxana Chi’s work of perforMemory

by Dr. Layla Zami

What is the contribution of dance to Black German artistic heritages? How can Afro-Germans use the stage to handle sociopolitical issues? How does dance connect past, present and future in ways that differ from other forms of expression?

In this presentation, Layla Zami contextualizes the performance I Step On Air. Arguing that the piece, and more generally Oxana Chi’s repertoire performs “a presence that is history, a history that is present” (Omise’eke 2008), Zami gives insight into the biography of May Ayim, and introduces her own notion of perforMemory in relation to Afro-German cultural production. Connecting the work of Oxana Chi to recent theoretical investigations of Blackness (Kelly 2016; Wright 2015), the paper shows how Chi fills crucial gaps in European historiography, and re-frames the past in relation to present power relations and Afrofuturist imaginations.

Further readings

Chi, Oxana. “Von Hier Nach Dort – I Step On Air.” In Sisters and Souls. Inspirationen von May Ayim, edited by Natasha A. Kelly, 201–15. Berlin: Orlanda Frauenverlag, 2015.

Zami, Layla. Contemporary PerforMemory: Moving Through Diasporic Dancescapes in the 21st Century. Berlin: Humboldt-University Press, 2018.