Dances For a Variable Population (DVP) will present Solstice Steps for three free performances Friday, June 20 at 6pm and Saturday, June 21 at 5pm and 7pm at the West Harlem Piers Park. Presented as part of the Riverside Park’s Summer on the Hudson series Harlem Dances, the production will feature a cast of over 50 performers and ranging in age from 25 to 85; including professional dancers, dance luminaries and community-based senior citizens. The world premiere performances features choreography by DVP’s Founder and Artistic Director Naomi Goldberg Haas, and invited guest choreographers and performers including Loretta Abbott, George Faison, Sandra Genter, Dyane Harvey, Walter Rutledge, Dudley Williams and Robin Williams.
I ask for your indulgence, as I share this personal account with you. The section of the work I am choreographing is entitled Goin Home. It is about a young man (Christopher Fishburn) who is sent south to spend time with his grandparents (Dudley Williams and Dyane Harvey) and on the way he encounters different individuals including (Loretta Abbott and Bruce Heath). In addition, the cast will include 20 plus members of the Movement Speaks Program and Dance of the Village Elders; a program sponsored by Harlem Hospital Center and the Ailey Arts In Education & Community Programs. This wonderful experience has been only heightened by recent events.
On Thursday, May 29 at 5am my front door bell rang with a steady pulse of urgency. When I opened the door I was greeted by two police officers, they asked me if my nephew Wale lived here. This was the young man I had raised, so he is my son. I was informed Wale had been hit by a car and was in critical condition and I needed to go to the hospital immediately because he might not make it.
He had been covering a gallery opening the previous night in Brooklyn for the magazine we co-founded. We had spoken on the phone and talked briefly about his photo essay we had recently posted. He was excited about his photography, and it was good hearing him so happy and committed.
I got in a cab and rode to a small hospital at the end of Brooklyn arriving in just enough time to sign the necessary papers as they were prepping him for the surgery on his leg. The accident had badly broken his leg and the swelling was cutting off the blood flow. He had also received head trauma and the CAT scan revealed bleeding on the brain. There was my boy unconscious on a ventilator.
I held his hand, as they wheeled him down the hall; when the double doors closed as we approached the operating room I was suddenly alone. Immersed in numbness and disbelief (this couldn’t be happening), and in shock; I wandered out of the hospital. I returned to the Manhattan to teach my class at Harlem Hospital, and would then go back to the hospital to check on Wale.
I thought somehow working would help me focus and cope. When I arrived for the class my Ladies (as I refer to them) were waiting for me (they usually arrived thirty minutes before to assist me prepare the room). They sensed something was wrong and upon inquiring the weight of the situation got the better of me. These Ladies were all mothers and many were grandmother and a few great-grands. I was now surrounded by these wise and experienced elders, and comforted by the power of the universal.
I only was able to spend a few minutes in the recovery room with Wale. Again I held his unresponsive hand and talked to him softly. He wasn’t breathing on his own, but he was stable. It was the most helpless feeling I’ve ever experienced. This is the person who taught me what real love was, to give beyond you. His triumphs were my joy, his setbacks my heartache. Every morning when I give thanks to the Creator I would pray for his well being first.
The following morning my Ladies began calling and texting me to see how Wale was doing, praying for me on the phone and giving me hope and strength. The plan was to go to the hospital after my morning rehearsals with the professional dancers and then my Ladies. Arriving early for the first rehearsal I called the hospital (again) and was asked to come and speak to the doctors. My professional cast arrived shortly after the phone call and took charge. Dudley said, “Go! Between the four of us there is over a hundred years of experience we can handle this”.
The levity and truth lifted the moment. It also allowed me to release, and Dyane give me a shoulder to cry on and a comforting embrace. Bruce, Christopher, Dudley, and Dyane then worked with my Ladies so Summer Solstice could continue to move forward. Naomi kept in contact letting me know she was there for whatever I needed. I am grateful to work with such generous artists, and I am blessed to be able to call them friends.
As I travelled to the hospital and sat in the waiting room sharing this with you is my cathartic prayer. We don’t know the outcome yet, and the not knowing is worst than any inevitability; but I want to thank my entire village for their love and support. I believe in the power of prayer, and Wale has a spiritual arsenal on his side.
This is the spirit of Summer Solstice- a family, a community, a village coming together in the spirit of Terpsichore. We look forward to sharing the entire production with you June 20 and 21. Dances For a Variable Population is presently finalizing their fundraising efforts with a Kickstarter campaign
To view Wale’s photo essay entitled NYC Ghosts https://outandaboutnycmag.com/o-a-with-walestylez-nyc-ghosts-a-photographic-essay/