By Walter Rutledge
Earl Mosley’s Hearts of Men Celebrates Dudley Williams August 10 and 11 at the Manhattan Movement Arts Center. The evening was a testosterone charged tribute to modern dance’s Lyric Crown Prince- Dudley Williams. Mosley presented fourteen works and vignettes. The large cast was predominantly male with the right “dash “of female performers, similar to the wisp of vermouth in William’s trademark classic dry Bombay Blue Sapphire Martini.
Mosley’s mission in many ways echoes the Black Live Matters movement. He has chosen to empower young people by developing artists of color. This noble undertaking included both neophytes and professional dancers and choreographers; the combination produced an evening rich in aesthetic integrity and artistry, and was a fitting tribute to the legacy of Dudley Williams.
Dyane Harvey- Salaam opened the evening by sharing her memories of Williams. Eleo Pomare (Williams high school friend) introduced the two. Harvey-Salaam and Pomare had a long-standing relationship; he was one of her mentors, and she his muse. Harvey ended with the audience calling Dudley Williams’ name multiple times in a chant to honor his memory.
Throughout the evening there were works that encapsulated the essence of Williams, an artist whose technical prowess was only superseded by his stage presence. It was his ability to touch an audience, and communicate with a single perfectly phrased gesture that allowed him to perform until months before his passing at age 76.
Germaul Barnes’ solo I Was Young Once conveyed a thoughtful yet bittersweet elegy to Williams. Using a montage of music for the soundtrack with the focal point consisting of edited excerpts from his 2014 Clark Center conversation with Jennifer Dunning. Barnes’ well-crafted work referenced signatures images from Williams’ performance repertoire including I Want To Be Ready (Ailey/Revelations) A Song For You (Ailey) Toccata (Talley Beatty) and Horton and Graham shapes from movement studies. Shawn Hawkins performed with great sensitivity and a sense of imbued reverence.
Audrey Lynch choreographed and performed Soul Space. The solo also used dialog and ambient music to tell a story of love and friendship. In this work Lynch narrated, and his soothing voice provided a gentle and profound accompaniment. The work used a strong upper body gestural vocabulary, which had an unabashed honesty and completeness. His presence and deportment was so strong he almost did not need the occasional (and well executed) extension, turn and jump Lynch sprinkled throughout the choreography.
Jamal/Darius, a duet choreographed by Mosley and performed by Jamal Story and Darius Crenshaw was a true delight. The two seemed to awake from a peaceful sleep and then perform a loving “good morning” dance. The work possessed a subtle sophistication, it was intimate as opposed to sexual. This was not an encounter, but a relationship. The duet was void of the expected angst and overt sexuality, instead these two accomplished artists communicated affection and mutual respect. This quality transcended gender and evoked the words of Nat King Cole “Just to love and be love in return”.
Joshua Beamish’s solo Adoration for Martha Graham Dance Company Principal dancer Lloyd Knight was art in motion. Set to Haydn’s Concerto in C Major for Cello and Orchestra the choreography seemed to emanate from the performer, fitting him like a tailor-made Savile Row suit. We never saw the choreography, we only saw the message expressed through the performer’s body. It was also refreshing to see Knight perform without his Graham armor; we got a chance to experience the versatility of this truly gifted artist.
The group works featured the young performers of Diversity of Dance with additional guest artists. These works ranged from vignettes, which expressed simple ideas and movement themes, to complete textural choreographic statements. Many of the works had strong Hip-Hop and vernacular dance influences. These works brought freshness to the performance and received immediate approval from the audience.
The most memorable ensemble work was Mosley’s Breaths set to a score by Eddie James. Clifton Brown (former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) principal dancer) and Matthew Rushing (Former Ailey principle and presently AAADT guest artist and rehearsal director) lead a cast of 18 dancers. Brown technical prowess and crystalline attack did not disappoint. Rushing, the central figure, performed in the role originated by Dudley Williams.
The male ensemble danced with a unified spiritual verve. And Rushing, a consummate artist, seemed to channel the late Williams. His performance was not an imitation rather an homage; honoring Williams in his own voice. Throughout, Mosley’s abstract narrative displayed strong choreographic structure and originality.
The concert was a celebration of the male dancer, and featured a bevy of young men honing their craft. Three standouts were Randall Riley, Isaiah Harvey and Daniel Moore. Riley’s physical appearance and height made him impossible not to notice, but his physicality made him a pleasure to observe. Isaiah Harvey’s clean line and technical proficiency was well-balanced by his on-stage intensity. And Moore’s assured and committed execution allowed his movement intent to immediately communicate to the audience.
In addition to the strong male presence there were also female performers who distinguished themselves. Imani Johnson has a powerful earth women quality that was equally effective in the Hip Hop material and the West African based movement. Aqura Lacey provides the perfect juxtaposition with her effervescent demeanor that charmed the audience without ever becoming overt.
Fana Tesfagiorgis is in her own stratosphere. Tesfagiorgis possesses that rare on-stage quality I describe as pure light. In Homer’s Iliad it is the quality that made King Menelaus launch his armada to retrieve Helen of Troy. She has an innate ability to make you want to watch her, even when she is doing nothing. This quality cannot be learned- it is a birthright, a gift from God.
The performance proceeds went to establish the Dudley Williams Scholarship Fund for student of the Hearts of Men and Manhattan Youth Ballet. This is a fitting tribute to Williams, passing on the gift of dance to the next generation of movers. If you had ever met Dudley Williams you soon realized he was a humble servant of dance.
Williams lived most of his life dancing, teaching and sharing his gift with anyone with an appetite for learning. A genuinely good and gentle soul Williams would have been proud of this celebration in his honor. And I am sure he is still dancing somewhere above the clouds.
Hearts of Men will hold a Summer Dance Intensive August 23 through September 6 as part of The Ailey Extension. The workshop is open to the public. For more information visit EMIAdance.org or email info@EMIAdance.org.
In Photo: 1) Dudley Williams 2)Earl Mosley’s Diversity of Dance 3) Shawn Hawkins 4) Darius Crenshaw and Jamal Story 5)Cameron Evans and Randall Riley 6) Fana Tesfagiorgis
Photo by: 2-5) Saya Hishikawa 6) Andrew Eccles