Actress, author and burlesque entertainer Gyspy Rose Lee once said, “If a thing is worth doing, it worth doing slowly… very slowly”. Fandango by choreographer Lar Lubovitch embodies Lee’s philosophy and more. Instead of flashy flurries of movement, the sensual duet performed by Danica Paulos and Clifton Brown; and set to Maurice Ravel’s contemporary classic chestnut Bolero, smoldered with a steady and intense heat.Continue reading
When incidents of oppression are remembered through the eyes of the oppressor and their descendants the atrocities usual receive a historic “whitewashing”; or become uncomfortable footnotes in whispered history. There is a majesty and power in truth. Greenwood by choreographer Donald Byrd retells the Oklahoma massacre dubbed the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot; a sinister event of racism that has been swept under the Jim Crow rug of American history.
The difference between an established dance maker and an artist is not just prowess, but their need to take risks. Byrd, an accomplished storyteller, introduces us to the ethereal Jacqueline Green, who functions as an omniscient and omnipresent Griot. Entering upstage center through a floor to ceiling monolith that opens into a black box, Green with an Amazonian presence transports us into the segregated Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
A blond and bouffant Danica Paulos stands center stage framed in a rectangular box of light we hear the approaching footsteps of Chalvar Monterio; who joins her in the light. As she brings her arms together the eerie sound of metal elevator gates closing cuts through the silence. This first innocent encounter probably reflects what really happened; a black man entered an elevator and stepped on the foot of a white teenage girl- the tragedy begins.
Through the course of the work this elevator scenario is repeated three times. Each time the encounter becomes intentionally less innocent, and Monterio’s portrayal becomes more “savage” and physically aggressive. This theatrical device helped symbolize how the incident became more sensationalize by the bigoted Tulsa community to insight the carnage. In each subsequent renditions the walking sound was augmented with the sound of more running as if fleeing an angry lynch mob.
Clifton Brown, Ghrai DeVore-Stokes, Solomon Dumas and Jacquelin Harris portrayed the “colored” citizens of Greenwood. Byrd interspersed moments of stylized posed stillness. These tableaus recall the sepia colored family portraits photographs of the proud Greenwood citizenry. This effectively created a subtle and nuanced pathos for these soon to be victims of mob violence.
To Byrd’s credit he did not create a literal Klu Klux Klan militia; instead the oppressor are silver automatons- faceless, mindless, devoid of a heart or soul. Even the movement vocabulary Bryd assigned to this ensemble of seven dancers had a robotic non-human quality.
The Tulsa African- American community was a living example of W.E.B. Dubois’ doctrine of self- determination. Since the Caucasian population demanded social and economic delineations and extreme apartheid- like separation by race; this left Tulsa’s African- American population to develop their own reality. The people’s ability to adapt, to adjust, survive and flourish; and the concept of Greenwood, a thriving self-sufficient “Colored” community, only created envy, scorn and resentment. The White community only needed a social issue scandal to justify displacing and erasing Greenwood; and destroy the community’s growing and solidified political and civic base.
In a striking moment Green sits downstage legs crossed arms relaxed at her side with her back to the audience; a passive, almost otherworldly, observer of the butchery. Green eventually rises, walks upstage to aid the fallen motionless citizens strewn about the stage floor. She drags Harris from the group and then lifts her onto her shoulder and carries her limp and broken body through the monolithic doorway and out of view.
The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot is one of the many little-known tragedies that illustrates the struggle for racial equality and the oppressive Jim Crow era. Byrd’s ability to translate history into a powerful abstract narrative is another example of how a seasoned choreographer/storyteller brings new life to a forgotten American abomination. Less than two years later the 1923 Rosewood Massacre decimated another thriving African- American community in Florida. These atrocities are absent from most classroom history books, so it is up to brave artists like Byrd to remind us of the majesty and power in truth- less we forget.
Greenwood by Donald Byrd
In Photo: 1) Clifton Brown, Solomon Dumas, Jacquelin Harris Akua Noni Parker and Jacqueline Green 2) Danica Paulos and Chalvar Monteiro 3) Clifton Brown, Ghrai DeVore-Stokes, Solomon Dumas and Jacquelin Harris and Jacqueline Green
Photography by: 1&3) Paul-Kolnik 2) Andrea Mohin/The New York Times
Hearts Of Men, the multi-generational dance workshop, held their summer intensive August 29th through September 11th, 2016 on the campus of Montclair State University. The two-week workshop provides dance classes, and performance opportunities to male dancers ages 14 and older. This session 12 choreographers set works on over seventy-five dancers of varied technical levels. The choreographers included Germaul Barnes, Julian Barnett, Brian Harian Brooks, Clifton Brown, Christian von Howard, Nathaniel Hunt, Roderick Jackson, Amy Jordan, Edwin Rodriguez, Artie Smith, Hearts Of Men founder Earl Mosley, and yours truly Walter Rutledge.
Although the workshop culminates with a choreographic showcase it is not about the dance makers. The performance is another learning tool designed to allow the dancers (neophyte to professional) to test and/or hone their craft. Ten young men ranging in age from 15 to 23 were assigned to work on my choreography.
This was my third time working with Hearts Of Men. Loretta Abbott and I performed a comedic duet entitled Sentimental Reasons in the 2015 summer session; and reprised the work for the January session (Shirley Black Brown graciously stepped in when Loretta was taken ill). But the 2016 summer season is the first time I worked directly with the dancers in the program.
Early in my choreographic career Bessie Schonberg advised me, “Don’t give them what you want. Give them what they need.” With that always in mind creating a dance theatre work- a dance narrative became our task for this session.
In recent years the dance narrative genre has fallen out of fashion for many reasons. Story ballets are expensive to mount requiring elaborate sets, ornate costumes, and a large corps de ballet. These dances require the choreographer be both dance maker and director, proficient in creating thematic material and character development. In addition performers must understand the power of nuance and acquire a discerning eye for detail that reaches beyond an extension or technical feat.
Many mature performers and balletomanes often remark about the technical virtuosity and impressive physicality of today’s performers. Unfortunately the kinesthetic onslaught often leaves these audience members exhausted for the performers. More awed by the near aerobic pace they often remarking, “How do they remember all those steps.” Before joyously reminiscing about Jose Limon curling three fingers and personally touching them as they sat in the back of the fourth balcony.
Motherless Child tells the story of young enslaved men who long for the love and affection taken from them. A realization quickly set in that the enslaved Africans were the same age as my cast of young dancers. Looking into their faces (each filled with a lifetime of possibilities) I saw our ancestors whose possibilities had been stolen.
Channeling one of my mentors Nikita Talin (who would often quoted Nijinsky, “Act first, then dance”) our task was two-fold to convey sadness and loss and to extract that same emotion from the audience. Moving people to tears requires the use of universal themes and visual images given to the audience in stages, thereby lulling them into an emotional release. When executed successfully the visceral yet humanistic nature of the images and the scenario transcend language and culture.
Since the work was going to be performed bare-chested we worked without shirts from the first rehearsal. This made them cognizant of the plastique (sculptural elements) of the movement from the beginning. We set the work in Horton Technique, but also emphasized the importance of stillness and the power of just walking in character. “Your back talks”, was a common reminder as the dancers perfected movement executed facing upstage.
To reinforce the individual and personal nature of character development images from Renaissance art were introduced. For the group dynamic Raphael’s School Of Athens demonstrated the concept of individuality contributing to the total compositional structure, while Michelangelo’s Pieta helped create the fragile imagery in the death scene. The art also allowed us to discuss the visual focal point and how the choreographer directs the audience to follow the action.
The most important word became intent- simply why. Why are you moving? Why are you reacting? By defining the intent we produced Euclidean economy and focus, streamlining both movement and message.
By our last rehearsal it was time to let the choreography go. In other words the work no longer artistically belong to me exclusively. Through their diligence and hard work the dancers had earned artistic ownership, and I had to step back and trust them.
The performances took place on September 10th and 11th in Montclair State University’s Memorial Auditorium. Fourteen short predominately ensemble works ranging from upbeat pure movement works to abstract narrative to dance theatre were presented to an enthusiastic audience of family and friends. I usually don’t sit in the audience when my work is performed, but this time I needed to feel the energy.
The music started in the darkness, slowly light began to illuminate the dancers. From the first steps to the final fade to black the dancers moved with intent and commitment, touching the audience and accomplishing their task. Finally during the informal part of the bow you could see and feel their joy- it was both gratifying and humbling.
If the classroom is where you develop your craft, then the stage is where you perfect it. Hearts Of Men continues the time-honored tradition of training, performing and mentorship. To learn more about Hearts Of Men and the other year round programs and services offered by the Earl Mosley Institute For The Arts visit emiadance.org.
In Photo: 1) cast 2) Loretta Abbott and Walter Rutledge 3) cast 4) School Of Athens 5) Pieta 6) cast
Photographs by: 1,3,6 Miskos Production- Milan Misko videographer 2) Howard Hemp 4) Raphael 5) Michelangelo
Video by: Miskos Production- Milan Misko videographer
Earl Mosley’s Hearts of Men Celebrates Dudley Williams August 10 and 11 at the Manhattan Movement Arts Center. The evening was a testosterone charged tribute to modern dance’s Lyric Crown Prince- Dudley Williams. Mosley presented fourteen works and vignettes. The large cast was predominantly male with the right “dash “of female performers, similar to the wisp of vermouth in William’s trademark classic dry Bombay Blue Sapphire Martini.
Mosley’s mission in many ways echoes the Black Live Matters movement. He has chosen to empower young people by developing artists of color. This noble undertaking included both neophytes and professional dancers and choreographers; the combination produced an evening rich in aesthetic integrity and artistry, and was a fitting tribute to the legacy of Dudley Williams.
Dyane Harvey- Salaam opened the evening by sharing her memories of Williams. Eleo Pomare (Williams high school friend) introduced the two. Harvey-Salaam and Pomare had a long-standing relationship; he was one of her mentors, and she his muse. Harvey ended with the audience calling Dudley Williams’ name multiple times in a chant to honor his memory.
Throughout the evening there were works that encapsulated the essence of Williams, an artist whose technical prowess was only superseded by his stage presence. It was his ability to touch an audience, and communicate with a single perfectly phrased gesture that allowed him to perform until months before his passing at age 76.
Germaul Barnes’ solo I Was Young Once conveyed a thoughtful yet bittersweet elegy to Williams. Using a montage of music for the soundtrack with the focal point consisting of edited excerpts from his 2014 Clark Center conversation with Jennifer Dunning. Barnes’ well-crafted work referenced signatures images from Williams’ performance repertoire including I Want To Be Ready (Ailey/Revelations) A Song For You (Ailey) Toccata (Talley Beatty) and Horton and Graham shapes from movement studies. Shawn Hawkins performed with great sensitivity and a sense of imbued reverence.
Audrey Lynch choreographed and performed Soul Space. The solo also used dialog and ambient music to tell a story of love and friendship. In this work Lynch narrated, and his soothing voice provided a gentle and profound accompaniment. The work used a strong upper body gestural vocabulary, which had an unabashed honesty and completeness. His presence and deportment was so strong he almost did not need the occasional (and well executed) extension, turn and jump Lynch sprinkled throughout the choreography.
Jamal/Darius, a duet choreographed by Mosley and performed by Jamal Story and Darius Crenshaw was a true delight. The two seemed to awake from a peaceful sleep and then perform a loving “good morning” dance. The work possessed a subtle sophistication, it was intimate as opposed to sexual. This was not an encounter, but a relationship. The duet was void of the expected angst and overt sexuality, instead these two accomplished artists communicated affection and mutual respect. This quality transcended gender and evoked the words of Nat King Cole “Just to love and be love in return”.
Joshua Beamish’s solo Adoration for Martha Graham Dance Company Principal dancer Lloyd Knight was art in motion. Set to Haydn’s Concerto in C Major for Cello and Orchestra the choreography seemed to emanate from the performer, fitting him like a tailor-made Savile Row suit. We never saw the choreography, we only saw the message expressed through the performer’s body. It was also refreshing to see Knight perform without his Graham armor; we got a chance to experience the versatility of this truly gifted artist.
The group works featured the young performers of Diversity of Dance with additional guest artists. These works ranged from vignettes, which expressed simple ideas and movement themes, to complete textural choreographic statements. Many of the works had strong Hip-Hop and vernacular dance influences. These works brought freshness to the performance and received immediate approval from the audience.
The most memorable ensemble work was Mosley’s Breaths set to a score by Eddie James. Clifton Brown (former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) principal dancer) and Matthew Rushing (Former Ailey principle and presently AAADT guest artist and rehearsal director) lead a cast of 18 dancers. Brown technical prowess and crystalline attack did not disappoint. Rushing, the central figure, performed in the role originated by Dudley Williams.
The male ensemble danced with a unified spiritual verve. And Rushing, a consummate artist, seemed to channel the late Williams. His performance was not an imitation rather an homage; honoring Williams in his own voice. Throughout, Mosley’s abstract narrative displayed strong choreographic structure and originality.
The concert was a celebration of the male dancer, and featured a bevy of young men honing their craft. Three standouts were Randall Riley, Isaiah Harvey and Daniel Moore. Riley’s physical appearance and height made him impossible not to notice, but his physicality made him a pleasure to observe. Isaiah Harvey’s clean line and technical proficiency was well-balanced by his on-stage intensity. And Moore’s assured and committed execution allowed his movement intent to immediately communicate to the audience.
In addition to the strong male presence there were also female performers who distinguished themselves. Imani Johnson has a powerful earth women quality that was equally effective in the Hip Hop material and the West African based movement. Aqura Lacey provides the perfect juxtaposition with her effervescent demeanor that charmed the audience without ever becoming overt.
Fana Tesfagiorgis is in her own stratosphere. Tesfagiorgis possesses that rare on-stage quality I describe as pure light. In Homer’s Iliad it is the quality that made King Menelaus launch his armada to retrieve Helen of Troy. She has an innate ability to make you want to watch her, even when she is doing nothing. This quality cannot be learned- it is a birthright, a gift from God.
The performance proceeds went to establish the Dudley Williams Scholarship Fund for student of the Hearts of Men and Manhattan Youth Ballet. This is a fitting tribute to Williams, passing on the gift of dance to the next generation of movers. If you had ever met Dudley Williams you soon realized he was a humble servant of dance.
Williams lived most of his life dancing, teaching and sharing his gift with anyone with an appetite for learning. A genuinely good and gentle soul Williams would have been proud of this celebration in his honor. And I am sure he is still dancing somewhere above the clouds.
Hearts of Men will hold a Summer Dance Intensive August 23 through September 6 as part of The Ailey Extension. The workshop is open to the public. For more information visit EMIAdance.org or email info@EMIAdance.org.
In Photo: 1) Dudley Williams 2)Earl Mosley’s Diversity of Dance 3) Shawn Hawkins 4) Darius Crenshaw and Jamal Story 5)Cameron Evans and Randall Riley 6) Fana Tesfagiorgis
We are midway through August and the arts are in full “summer swing”. There are art events abounding throughout the city many are outdoors and free to the public. Here are a few of the many arts events happening in the city that never sleeps guaranteed to keep you Out and About. Continue reading
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