Zell Miller’s Ballot Eats the Bullet Dances and Moves Through History

Sade Jones
Zell Miller's direction of six Austin performance artists pushes past the shallow depictions of Black women that so often litter the music and movement landscape.

Ballot Eats the Bullet, which opened at the Vortex in Austin on October 26, illuminates the struggles, joys, and ingenuity of the Black female experience through spoken word, song, and movement.

Conceived, directed and written by Austin’s own Zell Miller, III, the 90-minute production covers topics as varied as slavery, sexuality, and school yard debates. Although the disparate pieces don’t always shed light on new territory, Miller proves their is still richness in the soil.

Using a technique called the “jazz aesthetic,” Miller conducts as much as directs his cast’s movements, gestures and voices. The six actresses sometimes cluster and synchronize as if they compose a single body. Then one by one, they peel away from the group to become a new representation, a new thought, a new life manifestation.

Hillary and Trump, Miller’s irreverent analysis of both presidential candidates, rivals anything Chris Rock puts forth.

Some of the scenes are intimate and poignant, like the haunting Slave Ship that recounts the horrors of the middle passage. Others are frenetic and hilarious, like Black Girl Superhero about real power in the comic book universe. Hillary and Trump, Miller’s irreverent analysis of both presidential candidates, rivals anything Chris Rock puts forth.

Each member of this gifted ensemble (Kera Blay, M’Kenzie Flakes, Sadé M Jones, Breaion Shanique King, Chelsea Manasseri and Valoneecia Tolbert) has multiple opportunities to shine and in turn capture the audience’s heart. The six actresses become the embodiment of the Black woman as diaspora – souls torn to bits and dispersed like seeds that flourish in fallow ground. Their beautiful voices singly and in chorus fill the theatre with raw emotion and tap not only into history, but also our collective memory.

With Ballots Eat Bullets, Miller pushes past the shallow depictions of Black woman that so often litter the entertainment landscape and mines their souls for the pain, humor, and triumphs to which we can all relate.

Ballot eats the Bullets runs on stage at the Vortex through November 5.

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