By Walter Rutledge
Creative Outlet Dance Theatre of Brooklyn presented a three-day performance series May 15th through 17th at Kumble Performance Center, LIU Downtown Brooklyn Campus. The event entitled, An Artist Grows In Brooklyn, marked the organization’s twentieth anniversary and featured present company members, returning alumnus, faculty and students from the school. The performance consisted of a series of eight vignettes, which encapsulated the company’s past, present and future legacy.
Creative Outlet has been and remains a safe haven for urban youth (especially young men of color) to develop their personal talents and life skills. Founder Jamel Gaines nurtures, mentors and encourages his dancers and students, creating an extended arts family. The result is a troupe of well-trained performers, who excel in many entertainment idioms and dance styles. The common tread is a strong individual stage presence.
The opening night program began with acknowledgments of community leaders for their contributions to the company and community. Then the dancers gave poignant and emotional statements expressing gratitude to people who affected their lives and careers. When You’ve Been Blessed featuring youth performers from the school and Imagine Me Leadership Charter School followed.
Staged by Shirley Black Brown (Artistic Advisor) Victor Riddick (Associate Director of Young Artists) and Gaines. The work was an academic exercise for approximately 35 young people ranging in age from 6 to 12. The stage overflowed with bodies, and an exuberance of the endless possibilities of youth.
Gaines choreographed the next three works in the first act. In recent years Gaines has concentrated on expanding his own prowess as a dance maker. These offerings displayed his versatility of style and understanding of compositional form.
Cutting Edge, a full company declaration, where Gaines allowed the dancers to make solo movement statements. The work became an ideal introduction. A company opener, that gave each artist a moment to greet the audience through movement. Gaines drew the best out of each dancer in passages that seems both choreographed and improvised.
Danny Soto is a standout, he transcends technique. His quiet presence and smoldering passion are an intoxicated blend. My only wish is he can find more venues and opportunities to present his artistry.
Prize set to a speech by Barrack Obama with music by Creative Outlet alumni, dancer and DJ Calvin Booker was the most mixed medium work on the program. Gaines found a cohesive blend of hip-hop, lyric modern and ballet infused contemporary dance peppered with the right amount of bravado. The work showcased Gaines ability to bring his dancers to the forefront by highlighting each artist in their own style and area of expertise.
Bitter Sweet, commissioned by presenter 651 Arts, closed the first act. The work is essentially a series of four duets/love stories. The highpoint is the duet between Ryan Rankine and Danion Lewis. The encounter portrayed the special love of brothers.
Rankine is one of those artists who can become larger than life on stage. In person he is a diminutive man about five foot eight, but onstage he is a Herculean seven feet tall. Both men performed with an unbridled innocence, which gave the work a profound quality.
The cleanly crafted Lonely by Obediah Wright and performed by Vicky Lambert opened the second act on a good note. Lambert’s long supple body, reliable technique and strong stage presence allowed her to distinguish herself throughout the evening. Choreographer Wright created a “spot on” dance theatre vehicle that highlighted this seasoned performer’s strong points. He was also able to subtly convey a complex series of emotions through focused imagery, which ranged from an introspective pathos to witty innuendo.
Lambert was the springboard for Shirley Black Brown, who rendered the most impressive performance of the evening. Brown a veteran of Broadway, concert, television and film capitalized on her crystalline attack and speed to punctuate the words of Maya Angelou and Ruby Dee in Homage. In this movement tribute she articulated the message through her entire being (even her eyes danced). This collaborative work (choreographed by her and Gaines) is a perfect example of Creative Outlet’s mission to develop the total performer.
The two pure movement works in the second act, Nigel Campbell’s Four for 4 and Gaines’ closer Forces give outstanding performers another opportunity to wow the audience. Phenom Kevin Tate approached the movement in both works with heroic and assured bravura. Lloyd Boyd’s solid presence and athletic attack drew you to him. And the statuesque Khalia Campbell is a young versatile artist destined for great things.
Creative Outlet lives up to their moniker; providing opportunities that extend beyond dance. It is clear that these young men and women genuinely care about each other onstage and off, and have remained a family. This twentieth anniversary marks the next wave of Brooklyn “grown” artists, a true testament to the company and it’s founder. If we believe the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child”, then Jamel Gaines is a chief in this very special Brooklyn arts oasis.
Rachel Neville Photographer