6/18/20 O&A NYC SHALL WE DANCE FRIDAY: Donald Byrd’s Greenwood- Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Greenwood, Donald Byrd‘s fifth Ailey commission draws on the Company’s theatrical roots and legacy of addressing social injustice. The work’s title references a 1921 tragedy that happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s segregated Greenwood District. At the time, it was one of the country’s most affluent African American communities, known as Black Wall Street.
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6/18/20 O&A NYC EVENTS: Sneak Preview of Hanging Tree- Juneteenth is African American Independence Day

By Walter Rutledge

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. This observance should hold the status of an African- American Independence Day. Juneteenth 2020 will take place on Friday; and to commemorate the 155 anniversary of independence Jamel Gaines Creative Outlet Dance Company of Brooklyn and NYC Summerstage with present a virtual celebration entitled Hanging Tree. This virtual event will take place on Friday June 19, 7pm on Summerstage YouTube.

The production brought together the talents of dancer James “Banks” Davis, musician Talu Green, vocalist Marcelle Davies Lashley, poet Carl Hancock Rux, choreographer/director Jamel Gaines and members of the Creative Outlet family. Mothers and fathers performed with sons and daughters, brothers and sister, nieces and nephews, and present and former company members brought love, creative, reverence and community to the steps, plaza and base of the Doric styled Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument in Brooklyn’s Fort Green Park. Immediately following the performance there will be a panel discussion lead by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer/choreographer Hope Boykin. 

 O&A NYC attended the filming of the presentation and brings you a sneak preview of Jamel Gaines Creative Outlet’s Hanging Tree.

Preview Hanging Tree: A Juneteenth Celebration

On June 19th, 1865 a regiment of Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas. One of Granger’s first order of business was to read to the people of the city a document entitled General Order Number 3. The proclamation began:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

Juneteenth honors the memory of all people who have broken the chains of  oppression and dehumanizing servitude. It is celebration of those who have the obtained  freedom, either through the joys of emancipation or the unfortunate inevitability of death. On Friday June 19 we wish you all a joyous Juneteenth and a happy African- American Independence Day.

6/14/20 O&A NYC DANCE: Meet James “Banks” Davis- Jamel Gaines Creative Outlet Dance Company of Brooklyn

By Walter Rutledge

James “Banks” Davis is a real New York success story. Banks grow up in the urban environment of Queens and Brooklyn and as a teenager found acceptance and recognition as an urban street dancer. A natural athlete Banks quickly excelled in dance and gymnastics. He loved entertaining people often turning a street corner into a stage.

Then on Halloween night 2009, gun fire erupted on a crowded Brooklyn street and Banks was shot in the knee- another innocent victim of a random shooting. His injuries would have been a death knell for anyone pursuing a career in dance. Instead, Banks treated this not as a detour, but the course appointed.

The original diagnosis was amputation; but miraculously sensation returned to his leg and Banks immediately turned his attention toward recovery. Through mediation, prayer, dedication and hard work Banks was able to return to dance. Banks broaden his aesthetic horizons through his association with Jamel Gaines and his dance company

For over 26 years Gaines has used dance to inspire inner city youth to achieve; and often his prodigy has aspired beyond their own expectations. Gaines has the unique gift of working with dancer from many diverse disciplines. And Banks (whose specialty was the L.A. street dance style called Krump) developed his art under Gaines holistic approach to dance.  

Banks combines the refined, codified styles of modern and jazz with the raw edginess of Krump. In 2014 Banks stole the hearts of many on social media as a contestant on So You Think You Can Dance Season 11. Banks played the role of the angel Gabriel in the English National Opera’s The Gospel According To Mary and toured New Zealand with the Park Avenue Armory’s production FLEXN. In 2019 Banks was featured in the groundbreaking Revelation of Proverbs Reggie “Regg Roc” and the D.R.E.A.M. Ring at The Shed.

Jamel Gaines Creative Outlet Behind The Scenes

On June 19 Creative Outlet and Summerstage will present Hanging Tree, an on-line celebration of the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth. The virtual presentation will take place on June 19, 7-8pm on Summerstage YouTube. In addition to Banks the production (choreographed, staged and conceived by Gaines) also features vocalist Marcelle Davies Lashley, poet Carl Hancock Rux, and musician Talu Green. The performance will be followed by a panel discussion entitled The Importance of Juneteenth’s History & How It Affects Our Community’s Lives Today. The panel will feature RestorationArt Executive Director Dr. Indira Etwaroo, Gaines and Rux.

For more information about Creative Outlet’s programs, classes and upcoming event visit jgcodance.org.

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