GAL APPROVED! See The Cotillion And Examine The Darker Side Of Debutante BallsBy Delaina Dixon | May 19, 2023 | Entertainment, Gal Approved
A new music-infused play, The Harriet Holland Social Club Presents the 84th Annual Star-Burst Cotillion in the Grand Ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel—better known as The Cotillion—explores the worlds of Black debutante balls. The show centers around the Harriet Holland Social Club’s debutante event of the season: six young ladies dressed in elegant white gowns have been training for this moment for a year. They’ve learned etiquette and social graces and mastered makeup and grooming in order to present themselves to society. And Madame President will have nothing less than a perfect evening tonight. But this world of parasols and petticoats isn’t as pretty as it seems. Each of the young debutantes is struggling (or having a laugh) over her reason for being there.
The Cotillion writer/director Colette Robert explores some of the underlying sexism that was inherently built into Black society’s coming-out parties for young women. In decades past, some clubs expected their participants to be: beautiful, light-skinned and straight. The Cotillion also questions if a presentation of young women all dolled up isn’t akin to an auction block in enslavement times. And there’s some in-fighting among the Harriet Holland Social Club’s executive board who have different views on how the organization should be run.
Black American debutante balls can be traced back to 1778 in New York, when the first debutante was recorded by a newspaper. The main objective of Black debutante balls were “to uplift the race by dismantling the negative stereotypes assigned to young Black women during this time regarding what they were meant to look, act, speak and think like,” according to blackwomenradicals.com. In the end, The Cotillion does remind us that these organizations were started to give people of color the tools they needed to compete in an American society that was rejecting them.
Members of the Divine Nine and Black social groups such as Jack and Jill of America, Inc. and The Links will certainly see some familiar moments of fraternal life in The Cotillion, which leaves the viewer to decide if the debutante ball is something that helps—or harrows—its participants.
The Cotillion, music and lyrics Dionne McClain-Freeney, starring: Caturah Brown, Kayla Coleman, Cherrye J. Davis, Claire Fort, Starr Kirkland, Aigner Mizzelle, Cristina Pitter, Monique St. Cyr, Portland Thomas, Montria Walker, Akyiaa Wilson and Jehan O. Young.
Now playing at New Georges in New York City through May 27.
photo credit: Loreto Jamling