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
By Walter Rutledge
Fall is in full swing and is quickly ushering in the holiday arts season. This week we honor dance in Brooklyn, celebrate Jazz on Staten Island, and watch Denzel Washington save a western town. Here are a few of the many events taking place in the city that never sleeps guaranteed to get you Out and About. Continue reading
By Walter Rutledge
A Walk In Our Heels began as a dare by one of Abdiel Jacobsen’s private ballroom students. Jacobsen acquired a pair of high heels took up the challenge starting a blog called A Walk In My Heels (awalkinmyheels.com). The blog documented his travels throughout New York City as a man wearing high heels for over a year. This experiment became the catalyst of his choreography A Walk In Our Heels, one of the works performed during the 40th anniversary of the Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center on June 22, 2016. Continue reading
By Walter Rutledge
Bones The Machine has become one of the most visible members of Flex dance community. Bones style of contortion, illusion, and an urban theatrics has caught the eye of the public, and the notoriety has propelled him and his crew, The Next Level Squad, to worldwide acclaim. Bones and Next Level Squad have introduced their special brand of Flex to international audiences with performances in London, Japan, and Germany and recently starred in an ad campaign with Diesel for Joog Jeans. Continue reading
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.
In the 1930’s her father, Panama native Alfred Bruce Abbott, purchased a brownstone at 35 West Mount Morris Park and moved his wife Agatha (formerly of Kingston, Jamaica) and their two daughters Olivia and Iris from their west 143rd Street apartment to the brownstone facing Mount Morris Park.
She began taking piano, voice and dance lessons at age five. Loretta quickly developed a love and aptitude for dance, studying with Ruth Williams and legendary tap teacher Henry La Tang. Loretta soon began performing in children’s talent shows throughout Harlem.
“I met Loretta when we were both 5 years old”, shared childhood friend Jean Hill. “We danced at the Ella Gordon’s Peter Pan Kiddies. When it closed we all went to Ruth Williams and Henry La Tang at 29 West 125th Street”. Later Abbott studied with Charles Weidman, Paul Sanasardo and at The New Dance Group and Clark Center with Thelma Hill, James Truitte, and Pepsi Bethel.
A graduate of Hunter College Loretta briefly worked as a kindergarten teacher at P.S. 90 in Harlem, but returned to her true calling dance. She appeared in the May 1960 Lenox Hill Playhouse production of Howard Richardson and William Berney’s Dark Of The Moon directed by Vinnette Caroll. This became Loretta’s first opportunity to work emerging choreographer Alvin Ailey.
In the early 60’s Loretta joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She held the distinction of being the last partner to dance with Ailey in his masterwork Revelations prior to his retirement from the stage in 1964. The two danced together in the Wade In The Water (from the second section Take Me To The Water) and Yellow Section (from the third movement Move, Members, Move).
“When I quit the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater I became concerned”, remarked Abbott. “What next? If anything… Thank God I didn’t have to worry long! With all the inspiring new choreographers who needed dancers to experiment at Clark Center I was busy”.
Abbott began working with many emerging choreographers including Walter Nicks, Talley Beatty, Geoffrey Holder, Eleo Pomare, Louis Johnson, Marvin Gordon, Jean Leon Destine, Fred Benjamin, Andy Torres, Glenn Brooks and Donald McKayle. While working with Water Nicks she met dancer Al Perryman, who became a lifelong friend and dance partner. The two worked with many of the same choreographers and dance companies; and performed in the Tony Award winning Broadway musical Purlie. Their partnership became renowned in dance circles and the two were given the moniker “The Dynamic Duo”.
“For some reason, Al Perryman and I were always put together to partner one another thus The Dynamic Duo was born”, said Abbott. Comfortable in many areas of dance and dance theatre Loretta appeared in a number of theatrical productions including Two Gentlemen of Verona, Raisin, Porgy and Bess, Amen Corner, Liza With A Z, and The Wiz movie. Loretta created her own solo-touring program, Women of Color, and developed an act with Perryman.
In 1971 Loretta became an original member of the George Faison Universal Dance Experience. Her expressive dance style and willingness to work with many choreographers caused Tony Award winner and former Ailey Company member Faison to refer to Abbott as “Dial a Dancer”, and the “Bette Davis of the dance world.” Faison cast Abbott as the lead in his dance allegory Gazelle and continued to work with her throughout her life.
Abbott supported many organizations including the Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center. “I personally thought of her as the patron saint of Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center (THPAC)”, states THPAC Executive Chairman Alex Smith Jr. “She was the first one I ever encountered at a THPAC event. It was 1985 on a warm late spring day. I had never heard of THPAC before. She was the MC at a special tribute honoring Al Perryman at BAM.”
At the suggestion of former Ailey alum Hope Clarke, Loretta Abbott became part of the Nanette Bearden Contemporary Dance Theatre’s production of On The Block (After Bearden) based on the six-panel mural The Block by Romare Bearden. The story ballet choreographed by Walter Rutledge featured 15 dancers including Clarke, Dudley Williams, Andrea Long (Dance Theatre of Harlem) and Dartanian Reed (American Ballet Theatre) and an inter-generational cast ranging from 14 to 65 plus.
“Loretta was a true professional her attention to detail and nuance became both inspiring and educational,” explains Rutledge. “In one rehearsal after working on a small gesture she asked me, ‘What was her childhood like?’ At first the question perplexed me because we were not going to revisits this characters past, but then I understood- for Loretta this information became part of the character development.”
Loretta became a founding member of Clark Center NYC; an organization dedicated to the history and legacy of her beloved dance space. In December of 2013, she was featured in the organization’s first public event at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture talking about her enduring career and focusing on the support and training she received at Clark Center. She continued to perform for the organization at the 92nd St. Y in April 2015.
In 2015 THPAC honored Abbott with A Conversation With Loretta Abbott moderated by THPAC Artistic Advisor Walter Rutledge. The evening featured Abbott sharing her artistic approach to dance and recounted her diverse career. When asked about her artistic approach Abbott responded, “I’m always in character even if I was playing a rock I’d want to know am I on a mountain or by the sea? Am I smooth or jagged? Am I a dark rock or light rock, a boulder or a pebble? All that will affect the kind of rock I am.”
The evening culminated with a performance of Sentimental Reasons commissioned by Dancers For A Variable Population and choreographed by Rutledge especially for Abbott and himself. The work was a tribute to the often-comedic performances from Abbott and Perryman. The work was performed at the August 2015 performance of Earl Mosley’s Hearts Of Men– this was Loretta’s last public performance.
This spring Dances For A Variable Population commissioned a duet featuring Loretta Abbott and George Faison for The Phoenix Project. Recuperating from a debilitating stroke Abbott would walk from the family brownstone. With the aid of a walker she made her way to the Faison Firehouse Theater at 6 Hancock Place for rehearsals on Friday, May 27.
On Friday, June 3 after missing two rehearsals Faison became concerned. He called Rutledge, and he and her friend Keith Dames went to her residence and could not gain access. The police were summoned but refused to open her door. Her body was retrieved on Sunday June 5.
“Loretta lived as a true dance gypsy. Dance wasn’t a career it was her life. A truly gentle and sensitive soul Loretta could be fiercely protective of the people and dance works she treasured”, reminisced Rutledge. “We are all better artists and human being for knowing her.”
“When you look at Loretta Abbott you see a dancer who dedicated her entire life practicing the art she loved the most -dance. Her contribution to the development and preservation of dance theater was invaluable. She is considered a pioneer among dancers who collaborated with master choreographers like Alvin Ailey, Donald McKayle, Talley Beatty and George Faison. Her dance portrayals were legendary. She was the Bette Davis of Dance.”- George Faison
Her sister Olivia Perkins, three nieces, two nephews and her adopted dance family mourn her passing and celebrate her life.
The Phoenix Project performance on Saturday June 18, 6pm at Harlem Piers is dedicated to Loretta’s memory and a Celebration of Life will follow at Faison Firehouse Theater at 8pm. The Thelma Hill Performing Art Center will dedicate their 40th Anniversary Season June 19 through June 22 to Abbott and there will be a special performance of For Sentimental Reasons featuring Rutledge and Shirley Black Brown on June 22, 7:30pm.
Special Thanks to: Keith Dames, George Faison, Naomi Goldberg, Jean Hill, Olivia Perkins, Tad Schnugg, and Jill Williams
The Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center (THPAC) will kick off their 40th Anniversary season with its works-in-progress showcase entitled PEEKS on Tuesday, May 24, 8pm at the Faison Firehouse Theatre (6 Hancock Place). THPAC offers choreographers an opportunity to present dance works in varying degrees of development in front of a live audience. An audience talkback, which provides constructive feedback for both dancers and dance makers follows the showing. Choreographers Marshall Swiney and Walter Rutledge will presents works at this PEEKS showcase. Continue reading
By Walter Rutledge
The Frank Sinatra classic New York New York declares “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere”. For a brother and sister their dreams of dancing on stage at the legendary Apollo Theater are about to come true. Jelani and Arnese Britton (who reside in the Bronx) will get a chance to strut their stuff tonight at Amateur Night At The Apollo.
Jelani (age 24) and Arnese (15) have a special big brother little sister bond. The self-trained duo rehearse their routine in Jelani’s living room. His apartment provides them unlimited rehearsal hours, but lacks the space and mirrors that would help hone the dance.
The Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center Genex Program provided Jelani and Arnese studio time and an advisor for professional feedback. “Its been our mission for almost 40 years to assist new and emerging dancers, choreographers and dance companies”, says Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center Executive Chairman Alex Smith Jr. “Our Genex Program is designed to offer young artists one-on-one assistance and technical support.”
You could see the excitement on the dancer’s faces as they began rehearsing at DANY Studios on 38th Street in Manhattan. “This was our first time ever working in a real studio”, Jelani explained. “We were able to get a feel for dancing in a big space with mirrors. It is something I’ll never forget.”
Jelani, the choreographer, has wanted to one day dance on the Apollo stage for as long as he can remember. His sister Arnese dances at church and at school, but this is the first time on a public stage. “I can’t wait to dance at the Apollo, I’m a little nervous; but I know it’s a once in a lifetime experience and I want to have fun”, says Arnese.
The Apollo amateur night is the oldest continuous talent shows in the world. Ella Fitzgerald won the first Amateur Night in 1934, and received a prize of $25 and work for one week. The list of other Amateur Night winners include Billie Holiday, the Isley Brothers, Jimi Hendrix, and the Jackson 5.
The selection process for the The 81-year-old Amateur Night hasn’t changed, participants from all disciplines audition for chance to perform. Amateur Night At The Apollo remains an incubator for talent, and is also one of New York City’s most acclaimed live performances. The world-renowned weekly performances attract an international audience, who can either make or break a performer.
Jelani and Arnese hope to go to the next round and eventually win the Amateur Night competition. They are all ready winners for having the courage to turn their dreams into reality. Whatever the outcome they are performing tonight on the stage “Where stars are born and legends are made.”
For tickets for Amateur Night At The Apollo at $21, $27, $33 and are available in person at the Apollo Theater Box Office, online at Ticketmaster.com, and by calling Ticketmaster (800) 745-3000, for Groups Call (212) 531-5355.
By Walter Rutledge
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com or call (718) 875- 9710.
Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center (THPAC), continues its on-the-edge PEEKS-Works in progress choreographers showcase April 30 at The Actors Fund Arts Center, 160 Schermerhorn St., Brooklyn, NY 7:30pm. The second installment in the 2015 season will present three accomplished artists who are at different stages of exploring “the art of making dances.” Sidra Bell – Artistic Director of Sidra Bell Dance NYC, Da’Von Doane- original member of the revived Dance Theatre of Harlem and Lloyd Knight- principal dancer, Martha Graham Dance Company. All of these artists are making their choreographic debut with our PEEKS program. The showcase is free to the public, with donation suggested at the door.
Da’Von Doane will present Interconnected. Interdependent, a quartet he describes as the imbalance between man/society and nature. Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers Ashley Murphy, Jorge Villarini, and Jenelle Figgins will join Doane. In the tradition of Martha Graham’s Lamentations Lloyd Knight will choreograph and perform Lost a solo set to Gudrun Gut & Myra Davies, Doug Fullington & The Tudor Choir. rendering directed by Sidra Bell will also featuring four dancers. Dancers Jonathan Campbell, Austin Diaz, Alexandra Johnson, and Rebecca Margolick will perform this new work.
PEEKS-Works in progress is a laboratory environment designed for artists to present concepts and ideas and receive audience feedback. The developed works receive consideration the annual Souls of Our Feet: People of Color Dance Festival. PEEKS is designed to give THPAC a year round presence on the dance scene, and produce and identify an ever-expanding talent base of new artists and new work.
The program presents works-in-progress by emerging, New York City-based choreographers and dance companies with a special emphasis on artists of color, women and LGBT. This PEEKS Works in progress program is curated by THPAC artistic advisor Walter Rutledge. For more information about the PEEKS-Works in progress email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718-875-9710.
By Walter Rutledge
Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center (THPAC) begins their 2015 performance /presenting season with its on-the-edge PEEKS-Works in progress choreographers showcase February 26, 7:30pm at The Actors Fund Arts Center, 160 Schermerhorn Street in downtown Brooklyn. This on-going, year-round program presents works-in-progress by emerging New York City-based choreographers and dance companies, with a special emphasis on artists of color, women and the LGBT community. The performance is free to the public; of course donations at the door are always welcomed. Continue reading