3/3/19 O&A NYC DANCE/REVIEW: Why Talley Beatty’s Stack Up Still Stacks Up

By Walter Rutledge

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s revival of Talley Beatty’s Stack Up became the undisputed hit of the 2018 New York City season. This posed the question, “What makes a dance a masterwork?” In other words, why does Stack Up still stack up?

Part of the answer is the most unforgiving four-letter word in the English vocabulary TIME. Today in our fast-paced world with its changing social attitudes, need for immediate gratification and public acceptance, has virtually eliminated the critical maturation period. This is the time it takes the public (and critics) to develop the aesthetic acumen to understand and acknowledge that they are in the midst of something new, different and profoundly groundbreaking.

Created for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1983 Stack Up become an immediate hit. Jennifer Dunning reviewed Stack Up during the 1983 Ailey 25 season, “Mr. Beatty’s tale of lost innocence is as fresh as if it were being told for the first time.” Now 36 years later Dunning’s comments still ring true; Stack Up had retained a freshness and renewed relevance.

Another element of the ballets’ sustained appeal is Beatty’s innate skill as a movement architect and storyteller. A master craftsmen, Stack Up is visually stunning from every seat in the New York City Center’s proscenium house. Even in the fourth tier the patterns move with the precision of a swiss watch.

The textured construction of the choreography included multiple layered movement sequences happening simultaneously. This created primary action, and both secondary and background movement similar to the configurations used in story ballet classics. Despite Beatty’s repute the success of Stack Up sparked an unexpected comeback.

At age 64 Beatty had achieved choreographic acclaim over two decades earlier with his masterwork The Road Of The Phoebe Snow (1959). Despite his 1977 Tony nomination for Arms Too Short To Box With God, and several ballets in the Ailey repertoire, by the early 80’s Beatty had become a dance dinosaur. Artists such as Elisa Monte (Treading 1981, Pigs and Fishes 1982), Bill T. Jones (Fever Swamp 1983) and Ulysses Dove (Night Shade 1982) had captured the public’s curiosity, forging new ground; while relegating Beatty to the past. The success of  Stack Up revived Beatty’s career with a Frank Lloyd Wright vengeance.

Beatty returned to the loss of innocence theme that propelled The Road Of The Phoebe Snow. Set with a soulful Westside Story flavor “Phoebe” centered around a young men and women who encounter gang violence. In Stack Up the male and female leads are confronted by a drug dealer while navigating the New York City underground club scene. Beatty did not relive his “Phoebe” glory, to the contrary, he did his research to create a new work for a new generation and a new audience.

Better Days, a predominantly Black and Latino gay night spot, renowned for great music, dancing, drinking and plenty of shade. It’s tucked away on 49th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue, an area notorious for strip clubs, prostitution and rat-infested tenements. The diminutive, but fearless sexagenarian (Beatty) became a fixture/voyeur at the club.

Beatty soaked up the music, dancing and atmosphere of the club and neighborhood. Social dances such as the Hustle and emerging hip-hop styles were deconstructed and eventually incorporated into his choreography. In retrospect this was the beginning of the end of an era. The club scene with its rampant drugs use, transient sex and outlandish behavior would eventually be eclipsed by the crack cocaine explosion and the AIDS pandemic.

As the curtain rose on the current production, the Romare Bearden backdrop based on his watercolor Under The Bridge brought us into Beatty’s gritty urban environment. The Bearden backdrop (part a series featured in the 1980 John Cassavetes film Gloria) seemed a little faded and in need of sprucing up. Fortunately, this was the only element of this production in need of a facelift.

From the moment the curtain rises we are immediately pulled into the hustle and flow of the vibrant NYC night culture. Dancers spilled onto the stage introducing themselves; and immediately establishing their characters through both movement and attitude. All with the kind of aplomb best described as “urban cool”.

Yannick Labrun and Constance Stamatiou, the young couple emerged from the chaotic, but deliberate movement mayhem. Originally performed by a hunky Keith McDaniel the tall, lean Labrun made the role his own. With a “wide-eyed” sense of innocence and exuberance abounding, this danseur noble took us on a journey (no… his journey) of seduction and betrayal.

Stamatiou’s impassioned interpretation is much less an ingenue, and more protector and futile voice of reason. Michael Jackson Jr. brought a special energy to the role of the drug dealer. His energetic, yet multi-faceted portrayal revived images of the role’s originator Gary DeLoatch. Ranging from an almost manic “life of the party” ringmaster to an alone and poignant addict, Jackson Jr.’s antagonist evoked both disdain and pathos.

The second section opened with Rockin It, old school hip-hop from the Fearless Four. The dancer’s heads popped through the black backdrop playfully bopped side to side. Just one of the many ingenious theatrical devices that kept the audience “on their toes”.

With an amalgam of movement styles including; Dunham, Graham, Ballet, Jazz and current street/vernacular dances, the Louisiana native created an exciting dance “Gumbo”. The abstract narrative ebbed and flowed like a theatrical rollercoaster of falling and rise action. This was balanced by Beatty’s strong dance theatre prowess; which helped him develop complete and believable characters, and clear and concise scenarios. Standout Jermaine Terry’s subtle and focused portrayal of a little too high street character was spot on! His endearing sense of humor complimented without upstaging.

The final scene takes us to the club complete with a disco mainstay mirror ball. Beatty masterfully builds the work to a frenzied crescendo, ending with an arresting final tableau- blackout! Encompassing the four elements of good storytelling; intrigue, seduction, betrayal and mysticism, Stack Up remains a powerful social commentary, made more prevalent due to the present Opioid crisis.

11/16/18 O&A NYC SHALL WE DANCE FRIDAY: Stormy Weather- Featuring Katherine Dunham And Her Dance Troupe

Stormy Weather is a 1943 film musical produced and released by 20th Century Fox. The movie is considered one of the best Hollywood musicals with an all African-American cast and serve to  showcase of some of the top African-American performers of the time. Continue reading

6/10/18 O&A NYC WHAT’S HAPPENING THIS WEEK: JUNE 10- 17, 2018

New York City in late spring, and the city is in full bloom. We have art blossoming in Uptown and Midtown, dance swirls around Lincoln Center and Chelsea, female jewels thieves stealing the movie box office and Denzel on Broadway. Here are a few of the many events happening in the city that never sleeps guaranteed to keep you Out and About. Continue reading

2/19/18 O&A NYC HOLLYWOOD MONDAY- CELEBRATING BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Stormy Weather- Featuring Katherine Dunham And Her Dance Troupe

Stormy Weather is a 1943 film musical produced and released by 20th Century Fox. The movie is considered one of the best Hollywood musicals with an all African-American cast and serve to  showcase of some of the top African-American performers of the time. Continue reading

12/5/17 O&A NYC DANCE: A Conversation With Michael Jackson Jr.

By Walter Rutledge

Michael Jackson, Jr. has spent his career working in the Black dance genre. The gifted dancer, choreographer, teacher, and this season’s Ailey “poster God” began his dance training at age 14 at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. under the direction of Charles Augins. His irrepressible curiosity, athletic physique and pliant musculature help Jackson Jr. quickly excel. Continue reading

8/19/17 O7A NYC GOSPEL SUNDAY: Mourner’s Bench- Talley Beatty Choreographer

mourn2

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.”

Continue reading

5/2/17 O&A NYC DANCE REVIEW: Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) presented their annual New York City season April 19, 20 and 21 at New York City Center. The performances marked the sixth season since the company’s much anticipated return after a seven-year hiatus. This new re-configured DTH, under the artistic direction of former company principal dancer Virginia Johnson, continues to mature into a new and important dance voice, while staying true to its founding principles. Continue reading

(REPOST) 2/11/17 O&A NYC DANCE: Clive Thompson- The Graham Years

By Walter Rutledge

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To celebrate the Martha Graham Dance Company New York Season- February 14th thru 26th at the Joyce O&A NYC Magazine reposts Clive Thompson- The Graham Years

The life of a bank clerk at the Government Savings Bank in Kingston, Jamaica was not going be Clive Thompson’s fate; he had been a performer for most of his life. Clive and his sister Norma had been childhood favorites in the local talent shows and were part of the “opening act” in Children’s Corner Club at the Saturday matinees. After seeing the Katherine Dunham Dance Company perform and a chance encounter with modern dance teacher Ivy Baxter he began formal dance classes. Continue reading

2/10/17 O&A NYC SHALL WE DANCE FRIDAY: Mourner’s Bench- Talley Beatty Choreographer

mourn2

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.”

Continue reading

(REPOST) 12/19/16 O&A NYC DANCE: Jeroboam Bozeman Dance Warrior

By Walter Rutledge

aaadt_jeroboam-bozeman

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort”. Jeroboam Bozeman is living Roosevelt’s observation. At first glance Jeroboam is a quiet, reserved young man with a warm and genuine smile; on stage Bozeman is a dance warrior. This talented 23 years old performer will make his debut with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater during the New York City Center season, which begins on Wednesday, December 4.

Jeroboam Bozeman part one

A native of Brooklyn, New York Jeroboam was one of those fortunate individuals who discovered his “joy of achievement” early in life. He began studying dance at the Ronald Edmonds Learning Center (Junior High School 113) in Brooklyn with Ruth Sistaire. It was Sistaire who soon introduced Jeroboam to Creative Outlet Dance Theater of Brooklyn, a community based dance school and company.

Jeroboam Bozeman part two

Under Artistic Director Jamel Gaines’ guidance Jeroboam got his first real taste of the New York City dance scene. He trained in a nurturing family-like environment with working professionals including former Ailey dancers Shirley Black Brown and Raquelle Chavis. At age 16 he was asked to perform with the company and toured London, England. These experiences with Creative Outlet gave this young artist a chance to see the world, earn income and most importantly build a professional ethos.

Bozeman’s talents were rewarded with full scholarships to attend two of New York City’s most prestigious dance schools, the Joffrey Ballet School and Dance Theatre of Harlem. By age 19 his commitment and hard work paid off once again when he was chosen by choreographer Sarita Allen to performing in the Far East touring company of Elton John and Tim Rice’s musical Aida. These experiences helped shape the aspiring artist, but his career defining moment can when Jeroboam joined Philadanco.

Jeroboam Bozeman part three

The venerable Philadelphia Dance Company known to the general public, as Philadanco was the environment that propelled Bozeman from neophyte to professional. He credits the no nonsense approach of Artistic Director/Founder Joan Myers Brown for his artistic growth. For over 40 years Brown’s strong repertory company has featured choreography by such dance luminaries as Talley Beatty, George Faison, Rennie Harris and Ronald K. Brown; during his three-year association with the company Jeroboam learned to dance beyond the footlights.

A turning point for Bozeman came during the rehearsals of the solo from Faison’s Suite Otis. Former Ailey dancer and current Philadanco Rehearsal Director/coach Debora Chase-Hicks pushed him to find that inner dance warrior. The sessions were a watershed moment for Jeroboam, helping him move his artistry to the next level.

Jeroboam Bozeman part four

Returning to New York in 2012 Bozeman danced with Ailey II under the direction of then newly appointed Artistic Director Troy Powell. Less than a year later he was invited to join the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. As Bozeman makes this next career move he retains a humble teachable spirit, unpretentious demeanor and that exuberate smile. We wish this rising dance warrior much continued success.

Originally posted 12/2/13 for Harlem World Magazine