5/31/20 O&A NYC TRIBUTE: A Song For You (1986) Dudley Williams August 18, 1938- May 31, 2015

By Walter Rutledge

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In 2003 I called Ailey Dancer Emeritus Dudley Williams at that time he was a 39 year veteran of the Ailey Company, one year from a forty year milestone as an Ailey dancer. The Bearden Foundation and The Nanette Bearden Contemporary Dance Theater were planning a centennial celebration for renowned artist Romare Bearden. The dance company would present a new work On The Block based on the six panel mural by Bearden, which is in the permanent collection at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

I introduced myself and explained the projected; we wanted him to play an abusive husband opposite Hope Clark. I finished the introduction with “I have called you the Lyric Crown Prince of modern dance but in this work I’m going to need you to be a real son of a bitch”. He paused then quickly responded “I can do that”. This began a working relationship and friendship that would last until his death. I still miss Dudley’s dry wit and even drier Bombay Blue Sapphire Martini. I know that you are still dancing this solo probably with Alvin directing and Donny singing. Continue reading

(Repost) 5/27/20 O&A NYC DANCE: A Conversation With Sylvia Waters- Artistic Director Emerita Ailey II

By Walter Rutledge

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Ailey II Artistic Director Emerita Sylvia Waters has shaped the lives and careers of countless young artists. During her 38 year tenure the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble grew into the world respected Ailey II- a dance company, choreographic laboratory and “dancing boot camp”. In 2012, shortly before her departure, we had an opportunity to talk with her about her career as a dancer, teacher and director.

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5/22/20 O&A NYC SHALL WE DANCE FRIDAY: A Conversation With Calvin Royal III- The Best Is Yet To Come

By Walter Rutledge

 

On an unseasonably cold Sunday April morning Calvin Royal III met my at the East Harlem storefront dance studio of Robin William’s Uptown Dance Academy. The interview was in conjunction with his first upcoming New York City season as a soloist with American Ballet Theater (ABT). This also marked the first time in over two decades a black man ascended to the rank of soloist with ABT. Continue reading

4/8/20 O&A NYC MAGAZINE: Remembering Louis Johnson

By Walter Rutledge

Louis Johnson’s passing marks the end of an era in Black dance. Johnson was the last of the of his generation of 20th century American choreographers of African descent and International renowned. His contemporaries, Alvin Ailey, Talley Beatty, Geoffrey Holder, Donald McKayle, and Arthur Mitchell, all forged through the restrictive Jim Crow era of hatred and segregation; that unfortunately included the arts- and dance. Continue reading

1/1/20 O&A NYC DANCE/ REVIEW: City Of Rain- Camille A. Brown Reaches Forward To Revisit The Past

By Walter Rutledge 

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company premiere of Camille A. Brown’s City Of Rain took place on Tuesday, December 17. The ensemble work for ten dancers was originally choreographed in 2010 for her own company Camille A. Brown & Dancers. This rendering is more a reimagining than a reconstruction; and Brown takes this opportunity to retool the work to reflect her present esthetic. Unlike her earlier two offerings for the Ailey repertoire, The Evolution of a Secured Feminine (2007, AAADT company premiere 2010), The Groove To Nobody’s Business (2007) and her 2014 Bessie Award winning (Outstanding Production) Mr. TOL. E. RAncE, this revived work is less storyline driven dance theatre and more a movement dominated abstract narrative.

City of Rain is dedicated to Greg “Blyes” Boomer, Brown’s friend who died from a debilitating illness. Boomer kept the details of his situation private, and as he became more incapacitated friends were unable to effectively intercede on his behalf. Choreographer Brown has approached the work from a place of reflection, reverence and respect creating a fitting dance elegy for Boomer.

Brown’s signature style has become as recognizable and individual as a visual artist’s brushstrokes. City of Rain Brown emphasizes her keen and developed understanding of spatial design and strong choreographic form. The work is a barometer to Brown’s growth as a dance maker, storyteller and activists.

From the opening Brown’s subtle use of spatial design came to the forefront. Dancers Jeroboam Bozeman, Patrick Coker, Solomon Dumas and Yannick LeBrun flacked each other center stage in a spatially balanced four cornered circle. Coker broke the harmonious stillness with a solo filled with an uneasy sense of foreboding, which was amplified in the proceeding solo by Dumas.

Brown divided the quartet into two groups. Each coupling (one downstage the other upstage) moved with a slightly different time signature and punctuation. The dichotomy introduced one of her signature movement elements; the use of polyrhythms based on principles prevalent in sub-Saharan African music and dance. German dance pioneer Mary Wigman explored this device in the early part of the 20th century. 

Her diasporic use of multiple rhythmic movement patterns simultaneously has become a Brown trademarks. When six female dancers (Belen Indhira Pereyra, Jacquelin Harris, Courtney Celeste Spears, Jacqueline Green, Jessica Amber Picknett, and Danica Paulos) entered a harmonious chorus of movement engulfed the stage in a rich polyrhythmic visual tapestry. Her ability to incorporate syncopated rhythms through foot stomps and clapping intensified the polyrhythmic experience.

In City Of Rain she fearlessly attacked Two Way Dream, composer Jonathan Melville Pratt’s original melodic music score. Here Brown was able to create her own music/movement addendum- a dance driven visual “choreo-chorus”. Unison brought the work to a collective conclusion. Brown manipulated the use of level throughout; which helped to delineate the work’s visual focal point.

Here, the group danced in a slightly crouched position as a single dancer would rise up and move against the tide; then disappear back into the linear river of movement, while another artist emerged to take her place. Finally, the entire group capitulated to the unison and as the lights and sound faded the dancers began to melt into the floors. It was as if they had reached the final level of dealing with death… acceptance.

Reimaging a former work doesn’t always result in recreating the original emotional intent and public reaction. In City Of Rain Brown was able to use her present day prospective to reach forward to revisit the past. The one consideration that might enhanced the audience’s experience would be the addition of program notes.

This is the last week to see the New York City Center fall season of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. There are two more opportunities to see Camille A. Brown’s City Of Rain, Wednesday, January 1 at 7:30pm and Sunday, January 5 at 3pm. For tickets and schedule information visit ailey.org.    

Photographs of City of Rain cast by Paul Kolnik

 

 

 

12/28/19 O&A NYC DANCE REVIEW: Fandango- Pure Magic

By Walter Rutledge 

Actress, author and burlesque entertainer Gyspy Rose Lee once said, “If a thing is worth doing, it worth doing slowly… very slowly”. Fandango by choreographer Lar Lubovitch embodies Lee’s philosophy and more. Instead of flashy flurries of movement, the sensual duet performed by Danica Paulos and Clifton Brown; and set to Maurice Ravel’s contemporary classic chestnut Bolero, smoldered with a steady and intense heat. Continue reading

12/15/19 O&A NYC REVIEW- DANCE: Greenwood By Donald Byrd- The Majesty and Power in Truth

By Walter Rutledge

When incidents of oppression are remembered through the eyes of the oppressor and their descendants the atrocities usual receive a historic “whitewashing”; or become uncomfortable footnotes in whispered history. There is a majesty and power in truth. Greenwood by choreographer Donald Byrd retells the Oklahoma massacre dubbed the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot; a sinister event of racism that has been swept under the Jim Crow rug of American history.

The difference between an established dance maker and an artist is not just prowess, but their need to take risks. Byrd, an accomplished storyteller, introduces us to the ethereal Jacqueline Green, who functions as an omniscient and omnipresent Griot. Entering upstage center through a floor to ceiling monolith that opens into a black box, Green with an Amazonian presence transports us into the segregated Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

A blond and bouffant Danica Paulos stands center stage framed in a rectangular box of light we hear the approaching footsteps of Chalvar Monterio; who joins her in the light. As she brings her arms together the eerie sound of metal elevator gates closing cuts through the silence. This first innocent encounter probably reflects what really happened; a black man entered an elevator and stepped on the foot of a white teenage girl- the tragedy begins.

Through the course of the work this elevator scenario is repeated three times. Each time the encounter becomes intentionally less innocent, and Monterio’s portrayal becomes more “savage” and physically aggressive. This theatrical device helped symbolize how the incident became more sensationalize by the bigoted Tulsa community to insight the carnage. In each subsequent renditions the walking sound was augmented with the sound of more running as if fleeing an angry lynch mob.

Clifton Brown, Ghrai DeVore-Stokes, Solomon Dumas and Jacquelin Harris portrayed the “colored” citizens of Greenwood. Byrd interspersed moments of stylized posed stillness. These tableaus recall the sepia colored family portraits photographs of the proud Greenwood citizenry. This effectively created a subtle and nuanced pathos for these soon to be victims of mob violence.

To Byrd’s credit he did not create a literal Klu Klux Klan militia; instead the oppressor are silver automatons- faceless, mindless, devoid of a heart or soul. Even the movement vocabulary Bryd assigned to this ensemble of seven dancers had a robotic non-human quality.

The Tulsa African- American community was a living example of W.E.B. Dubois’ doctrine of self- determination. Since the Caucasian population demanded social and economic delineations and extreme apartheid- like separation by race; this left Tulsa’s African- American population to develop their own reality. The people’s ability to adapt, to adjust, survive and flourish; and the concept of Greenwood, a thriving self-sufficient “Colored” community, only created envy, scorn and resentment. The White community only needed a social issue scandal to justify displacing and erasing Greenwood; and destroy the community’s growing and solidified political and civic base.

In a striking moment Green sits downstage legs crossed arms relaxed at her side with her back to the audience; a passive, almost otherworldly, observer of the butchery. Green eventually rises, walks upstage to aid the fallen motionless citizens strewn about the stage floor. She drags Harris from the group and then lifts her onto her shoulder and carries her limp and broken body through the monolithic doorway and out of view.

The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot is one of the many little-known tragedies that illustrates the struggle for racial equality and the oppressive Jim Crow era. Byrd’s ability to translate history into a powerful abstract narrative is another example of how a seasoned choreographer/storyteller brings new life to a forgotten American abomination. Less than two years later the 1923 Rosewood Massacre decimated another thriving African- American community in Florida. These atrocities are absent from most classroom history books, so it is up to brave artists like Byrd to remind us of the majesty and power in truth- less we forget.

Greenwood by Donald Byrd  

Solomon Dumas, Akua Noni Parker and Jacqueline Green 2) Danica Paulos and Chalvar Monteiro 3) Clifton Brown, Ghrai DeVore-Stokes, Solomon Dumas and Jacquelin Harris and Jacqueline Green 

Photography by: 1&3) Paul-Kolnik 2) Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

12/8/19 O&A NYC DANCE: A Conversation With Yannick LeBrun- Ailey’s Danseur Noble

By Walter Rutledge 

A danseur noble is a male dancer who projects great nobility of character. A dancer who performs at the highest theatrical level combining exceptional grace, technique and strength. In a prior review I referred to Ailey principal dancer Yannick LeBrun as a danseur noble. It was not one performance or one season that brought me to that conclusion, but a career collective. Continue reading

11/28/19 O&A NYC DANCE: A Conversation With Khalia Campbell- Her Journey Continues

By Walter Rutledge 

In the early 2000’s the Uptown Dance Academy was located in the large loft space above a discount department store in East Harlem. After climbing the steep double flight of stairs, I met a  group of young dancers warming up in a small subdivided studio. Director Robin Williams introduced me to the cherubic faced girls and boys; whose youthful exuberance and joy of endless possibilities filled the room. Williams and I had a brief conversation, which ended in a private joke. In the corner a girl stretching on the floor responded to my comment with a hearty “ole soul” laugh; that doe-eyed precocious eleven-year old was Khalia Campbell. Continue reading

12/23/19 O&A NYC DANCE: A Conversation With Masazumi Chaya- The Golden Age Of Ailey

By Walter Rutledge

Masazumi Chaya, affectionately called Chaya, has been a part of Ailey organization for almost half a century. Chaya joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1972 during an era we refer to as the Golden Age of Ailey. During Chaya’s fifteen years as an Ailey dancer he distinguished himself as an intense performer; who excited audience with an almost effervescent abandon. Continue reading