2/20/23 O&A NYC DANCE REVIEW: Jamel Gaines Creative Outlet Dance Theater of Brooklyn

By Walter Rutledge

Jamel Gaines Creative Outlet Dance Theater of Brooklyn (JGCO) presented Remembering… on February 17th and 18th at BAM Fisher, Fishman Space. The 70-minute one act was an extremely enlightening audience friendly black history celebration. This multi-media event is a perfect example of art as education.  

From the opening soliloquy by Gha’il Rhodes Benjamin (one of three Griots) accompanied by a “Percussion Ensemble” of three drummers. Benjamin’s call and response with the audience brought us all into the village. The stage soon filled with over thirty performers including the company, five drummers, and energetic young performers from his Junior and Immediate classes.

Choreographer/founding director Gaines started our sojourn in an African village. The ensemble performed with verve and motherland elan. Throughout the work Gaines seamlessly blended performers of varying technical levels.  To use dancers of varied abilities and still produce a cohesive and coherent statement has always been one of Gaines best artistic attributes. 

Griot Talu Green transitioned us from free and urbane Africa to the horrors of slavery and the middle passage. A montage of drawings from Tom Feeling’s book The Middle Passage created haunting imagery and the appropriate juxtaposition to the emotional yet unadorned and austere ensemble movement.

Gaines masterfully restricted the movement vocabulary, this helped establish an individual and consistent interdisciplinary storytelling style. The multi-media elements of still and moving images, live drumming, recorded music, ambient sound, spoken word, oration/narration, plastique and movement from multiple disciplines enkindled a strong and powerful statement. In fact, the use of these theatrical elements is more indicative of a choreodrama than pure dance or dance theater. In pure dance and dance theater, dance remains the primary element with other disciples supportive. In choreodrama the elements are equal and/or exchange primary and supportive roles.

In the three subsequent sections, Take Away the Drums, Four Little Girls, and We Stand on the Shoulders took us from slavery to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, and the march on Washington D.C. Each section possessed a historic power, truth and focus that would have shut down Ron DiSanto’s’ black history whitewash.  

Take Away the Drums featured the third Griot Thera Ward, drummer Abouda Canara, and performer Deon Sass. The staging with Ward (center right) Canara (center left) and Sass (slightly downstage center) created a pathos packed triumvirate.

The heinous murders of four young girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church unfolded through four solos in Four Little Girls. The poignant portrayals expressed by Amina Konate, Valeriane Louisy, Lia Lewis and Ciera Thorne featured spoken word by Griot Benjamin. In this case Luther Vandross’ lofty rendition of Impossible Dream, became an ironic double entendre.

Ward wrote and performed the final soliloquy, We Stand on the Shoulders. Her strong regal presence and empowered passionate delivery made the section a befitting culmination. The ensemble returned for Thank You, a rousing celebratory finale. Here Thorne’s fleet footed attack, lyric phrasing and effervescent presence allowed her to stand out from the ensemble.

 Remembering… is an entertaining, informative, moving manifesto. Regardless of your ethnicity the work makes everyone want to sing James Brown’s anthem Say It Loud… My only complaint is there were only two performances.   









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