On March 30, 1958, the dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey (1931-1989) launched his company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, at a performance in New York City that forever changed the face of American dance. He was 27 years old.
In honor of the Company’s 60th anniversary, Matthew Rushing – a 25-year veteran of the Ailey company — performed the iconic solo “I Wanna Be Ready” from Mr. Ailey’s classic work, Revelations. Filmed in Rogers, Texas, where Mr. Ailey was born and lived as a young child, Mr. Rushing’s performance features live accompaniment by five local singers.
Dance Documentary- The Alvin Ailey Company: Beyond The Dance (Paris 2005) featuring Judith Jamison, Masazumi Chaya, Matthew Rushing, Glenn Allen Sims, Amos Mechanic Jr., Calvin Hunt, Dwana Smallwood, Hope Boykin, Renee Robinson and excepts from the extensive and diverse repertory. Continue reading
Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) returned to New York City on January 5th and 6th as part of the Joyce Theater’s American Dance Platform. The series (curated by Alicia Adams and dedicated to the memory of former Harkness Foundation for Dance executive director Theodore Bartwink) offered a diverse group of eight dance companies including the new, emerging and established. Each company appeared twice on a double-billed program. Dallas Black Dance Theatre closed the five-day/six performance dance-fest on a high note.
Founder and Artistic Advisor Ann Williams has cultivated the company into the quintessential dance theatre ensemble. The style is an extension of the African-American storytelling tradition expressed through movement, and has become the cornerstone of the black dance experience. DBDT continues this legacy by preserving black dance classics, while introducing new and emerging choreographers working in the tradition. The program offered two works in the dance theatre genre Furtherance by Kirven Douthit-Boyd and Matthew Rushing’s Tribute.
The dance theatre tradition extends beyond modern dance steps; it embodies the total theatrical dance experience. Katherine Dunham helped propel the genre to international recognition through her company’s work in motion pictures during the late 1930’s and 1940’s; but Alvin Ailey is undoubtedly the most recognized dance theatre choreographer. Most people associate Ailey with dance theatre classics Revelations and Blues Suite, but it was Broadway that lured him and his friend Carmen De Lavallade toNew York.
After appearing in the Hollywood production of Carmen Jones (1954) Ailey moved east performing on Broadway in House of Flowers (1954) (by Truman Capote and starring Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll), Sing, Man, Sing (1956) (starring Harry Belafonte) and Jamaica (1957) (with Lena Horne and Ricardo Montalban). These experiences helped shape the Horton-based dancer and choreographer into a song and dance man. Ailey incorporated theatrical elements (including lighting, costumes and acting) into his work creating story based dance narratives. Although Ailey died in 1989 his choreographic genius has continued to influence generations of dance makers.
Kirven Douthit-Boyd’s work, Furtherance, depicts overcoming personal struggle and ends with a celebration of triumph. His use of abstract narrative imagery triumphantly takes us on an uplifting dance odyssey. Furtherance opened with dancer De’Anthony Vaughan sequestered behind a wall of bodies that was aggressively moving upstage. Vaughan quickly eludes the advancing impediment with a series of second position extensions, before continuing on his journey.
Douthit-Boyd worked through a contemporary dance vocabulary that reminisced signature movement from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Well placed second position extensions, arabesque and attitude turns en dehor peppered the work with ample modern/ballet aplomb. Designed as a series of vignettes the centerpiece of the work was a duet featuring Claude Alexander III and Alyssa Harrington.
Alexander III and Harrington have grown into the roles since DBDT debuted Furtherance in the 2016 Spring Season. This allowed the audience to look beyond the steps and experience the artistry. The seamless lifts and ardent partnering had maturated into effective abstract narrative storytelling. Here Douthit-Boyd successfully trusted the movement to reveal the story, while subtle and nuanced gestures enhanced the section without becoming saccharine.
Keon K. Nickie’s short but energetic solo acted as the catalyst, drawing the dancers into his vortex. In this section Douthit-Boyd artfully created the required rising action to transition into the finale. Harrington returns alone culminating the work dancing in a protective circular cocoon of amber down light.
Matthew Rushing appropriately named his new ensemble work Tribute. The work is a black dance history lesson told through multiple mediums including movement, spoken word, lighting and scenic design.Rushing added a new word to the dance lexicon- Dancestors; which also encapsulates the ballet’s objective.
Throughout the work the names and quotes of iconic figures in dance including 20th century legends Alvin Ailey, Talley Beatty, Janet Collins, Katherine Dunham, Martha Graham, Sammy Davis Jr. and Carmen de Lavallade were interspersed. While dancer, actress and choreographer Hope Clark and Rushing created a voiceover track with quotes from Judith Jamison, Donald McKayle, Dr. Pearl Primus and DBDT dancers. The collective effect helped to create an ancestral family tree of dance artists, with an emphasis on African- American performers.
As in Furtherance the most impressive section was a duet. Male performers Claude Alexander III and Sean J. Smith combined their talents as singer and tap dancer respectively, transforming the Joyce stage into an intimate Uptown cabaret. Rushing provided these two talented performers an avenue to extend their range, and both young artists rose to the occasion.
In the ensuing ensemble sections Rushing continued to reference 20th century dance. Most notably a rendition of Wade In The Water was mixed into the score. Rushing had performed this section of Revelations while a member of the Ailey Company; and the imagery produced seemed less personal/autobiographic and more personable/first person.
For years the art of storytelling through dance has been marginalized in favor of plotless exercises in “pure” movement. Many dance performances seem to mimic nouvelle cuisine; it is interesting to look at, even satisfying to the palette, but not always fulfilling. The Dallas Black Dance Theatre honors the black dance tradition and the dance theatre genre, while helping to move the art form into the 21st century.
The real significance of Rennie Harris’ body of work has been his ability to transform hip-hop, a vernacular dance style created during the height of inner city urban blight of the 80’s, into the foundation for his abstract narrative art form. In early works such as Rome and Jewels (2000) Harris transforms the visceral hip-hop esthetic into 21st classicism. His latest work for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre Exodus infuses the hip-hop genre and modern dance with theatrical elements and strong choreographic structure.Continue reading
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
On Wednesday December 10, 2014 the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre presented the world premiered of ODETTA, a new work by company resident guest artist/rehearsal director Matthew Rushing. The work is a third of an evening dance theatre work set on an ensemble of eleven dancers. Rushing has created a work that harkens back to the company’s founding principles of conveying the human condition through the soul and spirit of the African-American experience.Continue reading
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