Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer and Baltimore School for the Arts alumna Jacqueline Green ’07 performs Ailey’s iconic solo Cry (1972). Continue reading
Talley Beatty choreographed and performed Mourner’s Bench in 1947. It represents the anguish and loss for former slaves, now free men, killed during the Reconstruction Era at the beginning of the rise of the Klu Klux Klan. Beatty explained to me, “People were murdered by the Klan and at daybreak their relatives would find their bodies in the fields still covered in the morning dew.”
City of Rain by choreographer Camille A. Brown performed by the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University (2015). Continue reading
By Walter Rutledge
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
By Walter Rutledge
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
Solomon Dumas, 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
By Walter Rutledge
A danseur noble is a male dancer who projects great nobility of character. A dancer who performs at the highest theatrical level combining exceptional grace, technique and strength. In a prior review I referred to Ailey principal dancer Yannick LeBrun as a danseur noble. It was not one performance or one season that brought me to that conclusion, but a career collective. Continue reading
Set to Maurice Ravel’s classic Bolero Momix dancers Mia Babalis and Sylvaine Lafortune perform choreographer Lar Lubovitch’s Fandango directed by Barbara Willis Sweete with conductor Charles Dutoit.
The fall 2019 newsteps: a choreographers series presented by the Chen Dance Center, 70 Mulberry Street 2nd floor in historic Chinatown, will take place December 5 through December 7; 7:30pm. The series will showcase the works of six emerging choreographers Jessica Alexander & Madison Doyle, Caitlin Javech, Amanda Spilinga, Alice Halter, Catherine Eng and Susanne McHugh. These artists were selected by a panel of established dance makers and provided rehearsal space, mentoring and performance opportunities. The newsteps series offers three performances for an intimate audience of approximately 100 people. Continue reading
By Walter Rutledge
In the early 2000’s the Uptown Dance Academy was located in the large loft space above a discount department store in East Harlem. After climbing the steep double flight of stairs, I met a group of young dancers warming up in a small subdivided studio. Director Robin Williams introduced me to the cherubic faced girls and boys; whose youthful exuberance and joy of endless possibilities filled the room. Williams and I had a brief conversation, which ended in a private joke. In the corner a girl stretching on the floor responded to my comment with a hearty “ole soul” laugh; that doe-eyed precocious eleven-year old was Khalia Campbell. Continue reading
By Walter Rutledge
Masazumi Chaya, affectionately called Chaya, has been a part of Ailey organization for almost half a century. Chaya joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1972 during an era we refer to as the Golden Age of Ailey. During Chaya’s fifteen years as an Ailey dancer he distinguished himself as an intense performer; who excited audience with an almost effervescent abandon. Continue reading