8/8/17 (Repost) O&A NYC DANCE: Loretta Abbott

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Loretta Abbott, dancer, actress, singer and choreographer passed away on Sunday June 5, 2016. A natural performer Abbott had two passions: her love for dance that spanned over 70 years, and her allegiance to the Harlem community where she lived her entire life. Continue reading

11/4/16 O&A NYC DANCE: Alex Smith Jr. Honored At Bessies

By Walter Rutledge

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In life there are no detours, it is always the course appointed. Despite all of our plans and dreams we can count on the universe to add some unexpected twists and turns. Thelma Hill Preforming Arts Center’s Executive Chairman Alex Smith Jr. knows this all to well. In 1995 Smith become the guiding force of the organization by proxy, now twenty-one years later he was honored with a Service to the Field Award at the 29th New York Dance and Performance Awards- The Bessies. Continue reading

10/3/16 O&A NYC DANCE: Getting To The Heart of Hearts Of Men

By Walter Rutledge

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

6/22/16 O&A NYC REVIEW DANCE: Thelma Hill 40th Anniversary Season Continues

By Walter Rutledge

IMG_0050The Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center’s 40th Anniversary season at the Actor Fund Center, 160 Schermerhorn Street, is in high gear. The third evening presented new, emerging and mid-level choreographers with works ranging from ballet to hip-hop. The performance expressed the founding credo of the organization by presenting the diverse and innovative choreography of artists of color.

The evening opened with a series of solo works. Francesca Harper’s Deconstructing Flack consisted of two solo works echoing the theme of love and loss. Both works, set to the music of Roberta Flack, took the audience from prologue to epilogue.

Erika Lisaku danced the opening solo with a poignant despair. Harper captured the haunting quality of Flack’s First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. In the second solo dancer Amanda Sachs conveyed the acceptance of her situation. More reflective and introspective Ballad of the Sad Young Men had a feeling of resolve.

Toro (pool in a river) by Takeshi Ohashi moved with an elegant quiet control. Danced by Ohashi, with live trumpet accompaniment by Justin Osouna Chance, the impressive movement quality combined tight, isolated movement with sweeping floor work. The works fluidity and grounded quality evoked both the purposeful nature Tai Chi and the explosive excitement of break dance.

The last solo, William Isaac’s charming No Banana Skirt, offered an upbeat and fun variation. Amanda Smith danced the lively and energetic pointe piece with technical proficiency and an effervescent deportment. Both the performance and choreography encapsulated the fun spirit of the Josephine Baker’s rendition of Bye Bye Blackbird.

Purelements: An Evolution in Dance closed the first act with The Call by Men Ca. Danced by the junior company the work effectively blended West African and modern dance. The level of professionalism and commitment endeared this group of young performers to the audience, and became one of the most satisfying aspects of the performance.

The Hip-Hop dance crew Special Ops five-man dance crew consisting of Ptah, Floats, Twist, Press, Rachett and Ej wowed the audience. The crew exemplified the evolution of the urban art form synonymous with 80’s street culture to 21st century inner city storytelling through a codified movement style. Using Flexing (isolated movement and contortions, Gliding (floating across the floor) and Shotta Dance (derived from Reggae dancehall) Special Ops shared a gritty reality ripped from today’s headlines.

Nijawwon Matthew’s XY Dance Project transported us from rap to Bach with his ensemble dance Work Forty. The work blended modern, ballet, gymnastics and “Matthews” to create a visual and kinesthetic excitement. Costumed in white bras, and briefs the dancers donned olive-green ski mask type headgear by Project Runaway’s Mondo Guerra, which
 reminiscence Robert Rauschenberg work in Paul Taylor’s Three Epitaphs. Matthew continues to find his own voice, and we commend and encourage him to keep exploring.

Earl Mosley’s Diversity of Dance closed with Wild and Free! (Draft 5). The jazz infused modern dance ensemble work featured a cast of 23 dancers, and quickly evolved into a witty high-energy pure dance crescendo. Mosley’s ability to bring out the best in every member of the ensemble has become one of his true strengths.

Alexander Diaz distinguished himself with abandoned risk taking and a focused attack, which made it hard not to watch him. The duet between Christine Caimares and Riccardo Bataglia had a strong yet sensual combativeness attack that (thankfully) avoided violence.

The 40th Anniversary Season continues tonight with a new line up diverse choreographers. The roster includes Jamal Story, Jean Emile, HSA Dance Ensemble, Charles Moore Dance Theater, Ronald K. Alexander, Abdiel Jacobsen and Bones The Machine. The evening will open with a special tribute to Loretta Abbott presented by Tony and Emmy Award winner George Faison.

For more information and tickets visit www.thelmahill.com tickets can also be purchased at the box office 30 minutes prior to the performance.

6/17/16 O&A NYC- A CELEBRATION OF LIFE: Loretta Abbott

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Loretta Abbott, dancer, actress, singer and choreographer passed away on Sunday June 5, 2016. A natural performer Abbott had two passions: her love for dance that spanned over 70 years, and her allegiance to the Harlem community where she lived her entire life. Continue reading

6/8/16 O&A NYC DANCE: Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center Dedicates 40th Anniversary Season To Loretta Abbott

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The Thelma Hill Performing Art Center (THPAC) will dedicate their 40th Anniversary season to dancer icon and longtime THPAC supporter Loretta Abbott. The 4 day season, which runs from June 19 through June 22 at the Actor Fund Center 160 Schermerhorn Strret in downtown Brooklyn, will showcase 40 choreographers, and dance companies during the milestone 40th season. The artists presented range from early THPAC contributors including such dance luminaries as Emmy and Tony Award winner George Faison, Philadanco, Charles Moore Dance Theatre, and Rod Rodgers Dance Company. Mid-career choreographers Marshall Swiney, Ronald K Alexander, Germaul Barnes and Rodger C. Jeffery; and emerging artists Nijawwon Matthews, DaVon Doane, and Sidra Bell. Continue reading

6/5/16 O&A NYC IN MEMORARIUM: Remembering Loretta Abbott

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Loretta Abbott was one of three former Ailey dancers in On The Block (After Bearden). The work is a story ballet set on a Harlem neighborhood from the 1950’s through the present day. Loretta, Dudley Williams and Hope Clark shared their exstensive character development expertise with the cast. I gained the artistic respect and friendship of Loretta and Dudley, which lasted throughout the balance of their lives.  Continue reading

6/5/16 O&A NYC IN MEMORARIUM: Remembering Loretta Abbott

 

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Loretta Abbott was one of three former Ailey principle dancers to perform in the On The Block (After Bearden). The work is a story ballet set on a Harlem neighborhood from the 1950’s through the present day. Loretta, Dudley Williams and Hope Clark shared their exstensive character development expertise with the cast. And I gained the artistic respect and friendship of Loretta and Dudley, which lasted throughout the balance of their lives.  Continue reading

9/27/15 O&A NYC Dance : From The Horse’s Mouth- Celebrating New York’s Clark Center for the Performing Arts

By Walter Rutledge

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Clark Center NYC will present a week of dance and related activities Monday September 28 through Friday October 2 at City College Center for the Arts, Aaron Davis Hall. The event is part of the “rebirth” of the Clark Center for the Performing Arts; the venerable New York City dance institution that closed 26 years ago. The new Clark Center NYC returns as a virtual dance center instead of a brick and mortar facility. Its mission is to not just honor past accomplishments but to offer opportunities to the next generation of dancers and dance makers. Continue reading

6/29/15 O&A Dance: Souls Of Our Feet Dance Festival Continues Tonight

By Walter Rutledge

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The Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center concludes their 2015 Souls Of Our Feet Dance Festival with two events Monday, June 29 and Tuesday, June 30 at the Actors Fund Arts Center 160 Schermerhorn Street in downtown Brooklyn, 7:30 pm. On Monday the third dance presentation will featured three New York based Hip Hop companies, Full Circle Souljah, Jendog/YalinDream and Special Ops/Flatbush Bullies. Tickets for this event are $20 and can be purchased online at wwwthelmahill.com and at the box office prior to the performance.

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Each group brings a different favor of this American art form that was born in urban NYC. Full Circle Souljahs, under the direction of Bronx native Rokafella, blends Hip-Hop with traditional dance styles and compositional forms to produce dances ranging from pure street dance to concert style urban dance narratives. Jendog/YalinDream are a music with a message duet that combines rap, spoken word and hip hop imagery. Special Ops/Flatbush Bullies mixes flexing, bone breaking, and break dance in a street battle format , this high-energy “in your face” style will make you want to bust a sag and pull your hoodie over your head. In Lieu of a formal post performance Q&A, each company director will provide brief statements detailing their organization’s mission and aesthetic philosophy.

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On Tuesday June 30 at 7pm the series will conclude with A Dancer’s Life, a conversation with dancer Loretta Abbott. Abbott, whose career spans over six decades. Abbott holds the distinction of dancing the Wade In The Water section of Alvin Ailey’s masterwork Revelations with Ailey himself (she was Ailey’s last partner). In addition to concert dance she was in the original Broadway cast of Purlie, Raisin and Liza With A Z. Abbott will discuss her career and artistry with Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center Artistic Advisor, and Out and About NYC Magazine Editor in Chief Walter Rutledge.

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Abbott and Rutledge will open the evening with a duet entitled Sentimental Reasons. The work choreographed by Rutledge and commissioned by Dancers For A Variable Population 10027 Project is a tribute to the partnership of Abbott and the late Al Perryman. Named the Dynamic Duo they had special onstage chemistry, and impeccable comedic timing. This free event will include a closing night reception. For more information visit thelmahill@msn.com or call (718) 875- 9710.