A Revived American Dance Machine Brings Broadway Classics to the Masses

Image courtesy of joyce.org

Image courtesy of joyce.org

When it’s right, when the music and dance and vibe all come together in just the right way, a musical theater song and dance number can be a masterpiece, a moment that transports an audience and sends them out of the theater on a high.

But when a show closes, the magical number goes with it. And, even a revival rarely if ever resurrects the original choreography.

That issue was the driving force behind the American Dance Machine, a dance repertory company founded in 1976 as a “living archive” of musical theater classics.

That original company was gone by the 1990s after the death of founder Lee Theodore. But now, the American Dance Machine and its mission to resurrect and celebrate great musical theater numbers are experiencing a rebirth thanks to Nikki Feirt Atkins, who performed with the original company.

American Dance Machine's Jessica Lee Goldyn in "A Chorus Line"

American Dance Machine’s Jessica Lee Goldyn in “A Chorus Line”

The group, now performing as American Dance Machine for the 21stCentury, is performing at New York City’s Joyce Theater through Sunday November 16. Future performances are in the works as well for those who can’t get to the Joyce in time.

For Atkins, who is working with choreographer Margo Sappington (who is listed as director for the Joyce season), reviving the American Dance Machine is a labor of love.

“There’s a real treasure trove of material out there, numbers that were showstoppers, that were just magical,” Atkins said. “I’m just so happy to be able to bring some of these numbers back and share them with a new generation. In some cases you’re seeing a style of dance that you just don’t see on Broadway anymore.”

Atkins said one of the biggest challenges she’s encountered since she began the project two years ago has been finding the right mix of dances, stagers who remembered the material, and performers. Securing legal permissions to restore some pieces also proved a challenge, she said, pointing out that the company was unable to present any pieces by the late Broadway choreographer Bob Fosse.

New York City Ballet dancers Amar Ramasar and Georgina Paxcoguin. Image courtesy of Christopher Duggin

New York City Ballet dancers Amar Ramasar and Georgina Pazcoguin. Image courtesy of Christopher Duggan

But the Joyce performances do include a healthy treasure trove of pieces—including two by Michael Bennett, two by Jerome Robbins, and two by Jack Cole.

The performances were presented as a repertory concert with simple, basic costumes (plus a few iconic costume pieces here and there) and no sets except for simple props (steps, platforms, tables). (But the Joyce performances do feature live music thanks to a top-notch six-piece ensemble).

The results overall were uneven but quite frequently riveting and certainly promising in terms of the potential of this company. In some cases, the numbers suffered from being presented out of context. Musical numbers, after all, are usually part of the dramatic arc of a show and the emotions generated emanate from what has happened before as well as the promise of what is to happen afterwards. In other cases, the unevenness of the ensemble cobbled together for this season, revealed itself.

Rare is the dancer who can be a perfect dance chameleon, fitting seamlessly into any and every style. Even for those who are triple threats­­­—singers, dancers and actors—there is still a difference between being capable and having the type of star quality many of these pieces required.

American Dance Machine's "Black and Blue" with Derick Grant and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. Image courtesy of Christopher Duggan

American Dance Machine’s “Black and Blue” with Derick Grant and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. Image courtesy of Christopher Duggan

There were, to be certain, plenty of star-quality performances from Broadway and ballet stars recruited for the Joyce run. They included a trio of stars from the New York City Ballet, plus Broadway veterans —a sizzling Jessica Lee Goldyn in “Music and the Mirror” from “A Chorus Line,” Amra-Faye Wright who dazzled in “City Lights” from “The Act,” and the always dynamic Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards who led the tap ensemble in “That Rhythm Man” from “Black and Blue.” Ironically, a number she originally performed in the original cast of that show when she was a kid.

But while some of the ensemble numbers rose to the occasion, such as “Popularity” from “George M!” led by a spectacular Peter Chursin, and a terrifically buoyant “Charleston” from “Billion Dollar Baby,” many of the ensemble pieces fell flat, lacking in charisma, vocal chops and the type of zing that transports a number from ordinary to exquisite.

American Dance Machine's Deanna Doyle and Nick Palmquist. Image Courtesy of Christopher Duggan

American Dance Machine’s Deanna Doyle and Nick Palmquist. Image courtesy of Christopher Duggan

Still, there is much to rejoice in here and the potential for this enterprise is certainly promising. The Joyce has already booked this new American Dance Machine for a return engagement next season and Feirt says other entities have also expressed interest in booking the company. Those are great signs of faith for a noteworthy and deserving project that gives the art of the Broadway musical number its due.

—Karyn D. Collins

Harlem Revisits Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”

Image courtesy of offdaglass.net

Image courtesy of offdaglass.net

Michael Jackson’s Thriller is a music and pop cultural classic. Each of us has the memory of first seeing Thriller and being terrified by the special effects, elated by the storyline, dancing, and of course, Michael Jackson (MJ).  Fun Fact: In the 80’s Thriller was the first full-length video/film that MTV ever ran on television; and similar to an eerie 3D experience Thriller’s characters still come alive every Halloween.

Thirty years later we still commemorate the afterlife of Thriller and MJ. Harlem, NY one of Michael’s favorite stomping grounds has some of the biggest and boldest MJ fans. Even after Michael’s death in 2009, The Apollo Theater memorialized Michael for three months with banners, t-shirts, and dance parties.

Image courtesy of the dailynews.com

Image courtesy of thedailynews.com

This Halloween, staged on the streets across from the Apollo and down from the soon to arrive Whole Foods, Harlem’s community organized a Flash mob dance-party to Thriller.  Hosted by newly infamous burger joint Harlem Shake and commentated by a masked President Obama, Harlem’s community experienced an interactive Thriller experience including all of Harlem’s teenage talents.

Harlem’s community came out in the hundreds and with the support of political leader New York Congressman Charles Rangel, NYC ‘s Police and Fire departments. It was enlightening to witness Halloween night turn from a personal trick into a definite communal treat and tribute.

—Kelly L. Mills

Slider “Thriller” image courtesy of background-pictures.picphotos.net

The Bessies Celebrate 30 Years

Bessies_2014_article

Bessie’s 2014 Lifetime Achievement recipients Arthur Mitchell and Chuck Davis

The New York Dance and Performance Awards, also known as The Bessies, mark the 30th anniversary of the annual awards when it holds its ceremony tonight (Oct. 20) at the Apollo Theater. The awards, which honor the work of independent dancers and choreographers in New York City, are named for the late teacher Bessie Schoenberg, who also served as a creative advisor to many choreographers.

Dance performances, always a highlight of The Bessies, will celebrate the 30-year history of the awards with performers representing various winners over the years. Among those scheduled to perform (and the years they won) are the Mark Morris Dance Group (1984), Urban Bush Women (1992), Jennifer Miller and Jennie Romaine (1995), and Michelle Dorrance (2011).

Chuck Davis' DanceAfrica

Chuck Davis’ DanceAfrica

The awards also annually honor luminaries in the dance world. This year’s honorees are Dance Theatre of Harlem founder Arthur Mitchell, who is to receive the Lifetime Achievement award; and DanceAfrica founder Chuck Davis, who is to receive the Service to the Field award.

While he’s receiving a Lifetime Achievement award, Mitchell, who turned 80 in March, said his career is far from over.

“I’m a little older but it’s not over. I still have things I hope to do. But it’s been a good life in the sense that people who don’t have arts in their life it’s like living in a desert. The arts ignite the mind and give you the possibility to dream.”

Arthur Mitchell as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet

Arthur Mitchell as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet

One thing Mitchell isn’t doing is working with the company and school he founded with Karel Shook in 1969. Mitchell said he’s had nothing to do with the organization since 2010 and when asked why, answered with a cryptic, ‘”you’d have to ask them.”

Later he added, “I think when you have a change in an organization you have to give them time to grow and stretch and so the best thing for me to do is stay away.”

Instead, Mitchell said he’s focused on sharing his years of experience as a celebrated coach and teacher.

“I’ve been teaching, coaching, looking and seeing what’s happening in the field,” he said.

Collages503

Dance Theatre of Harlem

And one of the things Mitchell said he’s noticed is that the landscape for blacks in ballet still looks almost as bleak as it did when Mitchell started Dance Theatre of Harlem.

“I’m saying things I said 60 years ago. The fine arts must open up to be much more inclusive and that’s something that has to change,” he said. “There aren’t enough black teachers in the communities to teach these kids. Everyone is doing community outreach but they don’t know how to talk to the people in the community and how to keep the interest alive.

“So it’s not just opening the door but also once the door is open giving those that come in better opportunities to excel.”

Dance Theatre of Harlem image courtesy of Rachel Neville

Dance Theatre of Harlem image courtesy of Rachel Neville

But Mitchell isn’t interested in just being a wise, elder statesman of the dance world. He hinted that there will be an announcement soon about a new project of his.

Said Mitchell, “There are some things in the works I can’t discuss yet but it’s exciting. So I’m not done yet.”

—Karyn Collins

 

Here is a list of all the nominees for the 2014 Bessie Awards:
2014 BESSIE AWARD NOMINEES: 

 
Outstanding Performer

Maggie Cloud
in Passagen by Pam Tanowitz

Sean Donovan 
in the work of Witness Relocation, Jane Comfort, Faye Driscoll, and others

Julia Hausermann
in Disabled Theater by Jerome Bel and Theater HORA

Sean Jackson
in We Used to Hold by Lisa LaTouche as part of Rhythm in Motion

Mickey Mahar
in the work of Miguel Gutierrez, Adrienne Truscott, Ryan McNamara, and Gillian Walsh

Angela “Angel” McNeal
For her hip hop battle improvisations at Harlem Stage E-Moves 15 Battle

Sara Mearns
New York City Ballet

Aakash Odedra
in James Brown, Get on the Good Foot, A Celebration in Dance organized and shaped by Otis Sallid as part of A Celebration in Dance at the Apollo Theater

Tiler Peck
New York City Ballet

Rebecca Serrell-Cyr
in Fire Underground by Donna Uchizono

Linda Celeste Sims
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Stuart Singer
in Within Between by John Jasperse

Outstanding Music Composition/Sound Design

Simphiwe Dana, Giuliano Modarelli, and Complete Quartet 
for Exit/Exist choreographed by Gregory Maqoma

G. Lucas Crane
for This Was the End created by Mallory Catlett

Steven Taylor
for Aubade choreographed by Douglas Dunn

Nicholas Young
for his inventive tap ‘percussion platforms’ in Rhythm in Motion

Outstanding Revival

Dark Swan
by Nora Chipaumire
The Joyce

Myth or Meth (or Maybe Moscow?)
by Radiohole
Tom Murrin Full Moon Performance Festival at La MaMa

State of Heads
by Donna Uchizono
New York Live Arts

Bach Partita
by Twyla Tharp
American Ballet Theatre

Outstanding Production

Asase Yaa African American Dance Theatre
Djembe in the New Millenium
Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts

Camille A. Brown
MR. TOL E. RAncE
Produced by 651 Arts at Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts

Mallory Catlett
This Was the End
The Chocolate Factory

Liz Gerring
Glacier
Montclair State University

Maria Hassabi
Premiere
The Kitchen

John Jasperse
Within Between
New York Live Arts

Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker 
En Atendant/Cesena
Brooklyn Academy of Music

Akram Khan
Desh
White Light Festival

Sarah Michelson
4
Whitney Museum of American Art

MIMULUS Cia de Danca
Dolores
The Joyce

Okwui Okpokwasili in collaboration with Peter Born
Bronx Gothic
Danspace

Aki Sasamoto
Sunny in the Furnace
The Kitchen

Outstanding Visual Design

Thomas Dunn
for New Work for the Desert by Beth Gill

Avram Finkelstein, Kathy Morganroth, and Jenny Mui of YMX by Yellowman; Patricia Forelle; Tamara Gonzales; and Nicholas Vermeer, Olivia Barr, and William Ward of NYC Resistor
for Vectors, Mary, and Snow by Brooklyn Ballet

Peter Ksander, Olivera Gajic, Ryan Holsopple, Chris Kuhl, and Keith Skretch
for This Was the End by Mallory Catlett

Tim Yip
for Desh by Akram Khan

Outstanding Emerging Choreographer

Rashida Bumbray
for The Little Red Rooster in a Red House
Harlem Stages E-Moves 15

Jessica Lang
For the formation of her own company and its inaugural season
The Joyce

Jen Rosenblit
for a Natural dance
The Kitchen

Gillian Walsh
for Grinding and Equations: Two Duets at Abrons
Abrons Arts Center

Kehinde Wiley: Portraits in Black

Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, 2012 oil on linen framed: 106 3/8 x 82 inches ©Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy Sean Kelly, New York Photo by Jason Wyche

Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, 2012
©Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy Sean Kelly, New York
Photo by Jason Wyche

Even PBS is getting into the spirit of New York Fashion Week.

Earlier this week, New York City’s PBS station, WNET, debuted the documentary “Dressing America: Tales from the Garment Center.” That program re-airs on PBS Sunday at 10:30 p.m.

© Show of Force Photo by William Peña

© Show of Force
Photo by William Peña

Tonight at 9 p.m. (Sept. 5), marks the debut of another fashion-centric documentary. Look for re-air dates in local listings. But this one includes an intriguing twist. “Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace,” follows the painter through the process of selecting, outfitting and ultimately painting his subjects.

Femme piquee par un serpent, 2008 oil on canvas 102 x 300 inches ©Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy Sean Kelly, New York

Femme piquee par un serpent, 2008©Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy Sean Kelly, New York 

Wiley, up until now, has gained critical acclaim for his reinterpretations of classical portraiture featuring African American men. Indeed some of his portraits have been placed in the permanent collections of some of the most prestigious arts institutions in the world including the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

kehindesmaller_10__MG_6495David_Smoler-1

© Show of Force, Photo by Jessica Chermayeff

 

But for his latest project, Wiley turned his focus on African American women, selecting average women he found on the streets of New York to be featured in specially crafted creations by his friend, the fashion designer Riccardo Tisci who is creative director of Givenchy.

The process and results of that project have been captured on film in a documentary, “KEHINDE WILEY: AN ECONOMY OF GRACE.”

Executive producer Lamar Johnson said the project’s focus on capturing the artist on film as Wiley and his team spotted women on the streets of New York, and then involved them in the process of creating the portraits, showed the unique convergence of experiences that were part of the project.

(From left to right) Shantavia Beale, Treisha Lowe, Ena Johnson, Chanel Stephens, Khalidia Asante, Dacia Carter after the photo shoot for An Economy of Grace © Show of Force Photo by Jessica Chermayeff

(From left to right) Shantavia Beale, Treisha Lowe, Ena Johnson, Chanel Stephens, Khalidia Asante, Dacia Carter after the photo shoot for An Economy of Grace
© Show of Force
Photo by Jessica Chermayeff

“It’s all very extemporaneous and sort of organic in how it unfolds. Some of these women were just average people on the street. Some were pretty well known like (television journalist) Lola Ogunnaike. But these were women who were just out and about in the urban epicenter. It’s all very organic,” Johnson explained. “We were surprised that there were quite a few people who turned down the venture. But that’s just the nature of the streets of New York. Some of the facial expressions we would get from the women when approached were priceless. That’s New York.”

Johnson said one of the most intriguing aspects of the project is Wiley’s overall goal to reconceptualize the image and imagery of African American women. The fashion component, Johnson said, heightened that goal.

Judith and Holofernes, 2012 oil on linen framed: 130 1/2 x 99 7/8 inches  ©Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy Sean Kelly, New York Photo by Jason Wyche

Judith and Holofernes, 2012©Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy Sean Kelly, New York
Photo by Jason Wyche 

“These were couture gowns that even those who have achieved more in the world professionally and financially may not be able to afford or have access to. But these women, chosen by chance on the streets of New York, got this experience,” Johnson said. “In the film, Kehinde talks about the way that African Americans and particularly African American women are portrayed in contemporary media. Those portrayals leave something to be desired, as he puts it.

“A lot of us involved in this project felt that was one of the key motivations for this and being part of this project. This was about presenting some alternate images of African American women and femininity … to balance the scales.”

—Karyn D. Collins

 

 

 

 

MBFW Restaurant Roundup Spring 2015

Collages382Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week (MBFW) is almost here. And this spring 2015 season promises to be jammed pack with more shows—over 600 in fact. With all the pressure to attend some fantastic collections, with venues extending from “The Tents” at Lincoln Center to Milk Studios, Pier 59, Helen Mills Gallery, and a variety of other venues throughout New York City, when are you going to have time to get the much need nutrition that’s needed to keep uo or energy or have some downtime with your friends and colleagues.

Just in time for MBFW, Fashion Reverie has come up with a few places that will satisfy that rumbling stomach and also not break the bank. These eateries are also great places to get away from the hustle and bustle of MBFW, and reflect with a colleague on the great collections you may have witnessed throughout the day.

DSCF000014Bocca di Bacco located at 828th 8th Avenue is a great place to dine for a quick lunch or dinner if you happen attending shows in Chelsea or the Meatpacking District. {Sally Lapointe, Christian Siriano, Katie Gallagher, shows at Pier 59, the Highline Hotel and Milk Studios will place you in a short walking distance from Bocca di Bacco.}

Prix Fixe Lunch ($14.95) is Monday–Friday, 12pm­4pm with Saturday and Sunday Brunch 12pm-4pm. My personal prix fixe lunch favorite was the Insalata Tre Colori, Costoletta Di Mailale (Pork Chop, Carmelized Vegetables) and vanilla panna cotta.

Bocca_Header_New_9

“If you only have short time to eat between shows our salads, paninis, and pasta dishes are great choices. The Amalfitano is a great lunchtime Panini; the Tortelli Ricotta Spinaci with our excellent butter sage is also a good choice I also recommend our beet salad to start. If editors are coming for dinner, I recommend the Stinco D’Agnello (lamb shank) and the Branzino Grigliato (grilled branzino, roasted potatoes, and broccoli rabe). These dishes are light dishes, very affordable, and ideal for industry professionals who don’t have a lot of time,” details head waiter Adrian Rifat. “A great lunchtime drink is our Rose Chateau Montand cotes de Provence or our Pino Grigio Molino.”

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Image courtesy of EDEN PR

The red door says it all. After the shows downtown or at Lincoln Center, on your back to the Upper Eastside, stop by Vinus and Marc for a late night bite or just to relax after all the busy hustle and bustle of Fashion Week.

The red door and 1920′s speakeasy vibe makes for a great place to chill back, have a cocktail and feast on some of the fantastic food. But it’s not just about the atmosphere, Vinus and Marc celebrates handcrafted cocktails with rich cuisine by J. Luis Dominguez.

Exterior

If you attending shows at the DiMenna Arts Center or other shows in the Garment District IL Punto Ristorante located at 507 9th Avenue (corner of 38th Street) is a great choice. Il Punto Ristorante is an escape to Italy in Midtown, Manhattan.

Images courtesy of Il Punto Ristorante

Images courtesy of Il Punto Ristorante

I recommend the Insala di Bosco(baby greens/grape tomatoes/ berries/ red wine reduction/ honey toasted walnuts/ balsamic dressing), Pollo IL Punto (sauteed organic chicken / asparagus / melted fontina cheese / white wine sauce / mashed potatoes), and the chocolate/vanilla pannacotta. Il Punto Ristorante is affordable with great service. Remember, everything is great with some limoncelli and IL Punto’ is the best!!

—William S. Gooch

 

The Russians Are Coming!!

Bolshoi Ballet in "Swan Lake"

Bolshoi Ballet in “Swan Lake”

That’s Russian as in Bolshoi, all four parts of Russia’s most celebrated artistic entity—the Bolshoi Ballet, Opera, Orchestra and Chorus. It’s an institution that traces its history back to Catherine the Great. The occasion for the Russian invasion is a two-week residency connected to the annual Lincoln Center Festival.

Of all these, it is the 200-strong Bolshoi Ballet, which will perform July 15-27 at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater that is creating the most buzz, and not just because of the dancing.

Bolshoi Ballet's "Swan Lake"

Bolshoi Ballet’s “Swan Lake”

This is the same Bolshoi Ballet which was roiled by a scandal in which its artistic director was nearly blinded by a January 2013 attack in which sulfuric acid was thrown into his face. Today, after 27 surgeries, director Sergei Filin remains blinded in one eye and has only 50 percent vision in the other, but has resumed his duties as director.

A Bolshoi dancer was sentenced to prison after confessing to plotting the attack with the help of two thugs. The dancer was angered about not being cast in certain roles, and was also upset about that his girlfriend—a fellow dancer—had not been promoted.

But the investigation and trial about the attack laid bare an organization that had been rife with corruption, long-simmering resentments and resistance to change. Though lauded by critics, Filin’s reform efforts since he took over in 2011—including new ballets and new dancers like American David Hallberg—were met with protests within the Bolshoi.

Bolshoi Ballet's "Spartacus"

Bolshoi Ballet’s “Spartacus”

Ismene Brown, dance commentator for BBC Radio and former critic for London’s Daily Telegraph, said it was important to understand the bigger picture behind the Filin attack and the subsequent revelations from the investigation.

“These are symptoms, in part, of the culture clash going on between the stagnant ideas and working conditions of the Soviet era still being applied in modern Russia, while at the same time trying to catch up with the Western developments in ballet and free-market conditions,” she said. “Filin, who is 43, …  represents a more open, Western-minded approach that still recognizes the core importance of the works of the old Soviet chief Yuri Grigorovich (who is still working, at 86).

“But that argument between east/west, past/present, rages on still, with an ‘old guard’ that is suspicious of US and European dance and believes the Soviet discipline and pro-Russia focus produced the best in world ballet. This plays into the current trend in Russian politics under Putin towards inwardness and nationalism, but it’s much more than just some old cliché. It is a genuine dilemma.”

Bolshoi Ballet's corps de ballet in "Swan Lake"

Bolshoi Ballet’s corps de ballet in “Swan Lake”

And yet, in the midst of all of this controversy, there is still the dancing. The Bolshoi’s corps de ballet, for example, is legendary not just for its large size, but for its strong, dramatic style.

However, it should be noted that none of the company’s newer, more modern repertoire will be on view during its New York residency. Instead, the Bolshoi will present three traditional warhorses from its repertoire—“Swan Lake,” “Don Quixote,” and “Spartacus”—the type of traditional fare that audiences have come to expect from the Bolshoi.

Bolshoi Ballet's "Spartacus"

Bolshoi Ballet’s “Spartacus”

Anna Kisselgoff, former chief dance critic for the New York Times, said that while the Bolshoi hasn’t been seen in New York City for several years, the company has toured recently in the United States including a series of performances in May in Washington, D.C. The company also has been seen in a series of recent cinema broadcasts.

But Kisselgoff said the Bolshoi that New York audiences will witness this time around may not be the Bolshoi that fans remember or have read about.

Bolshoi Ballet's "Don Quixote. All images courtesy of Lincoln Center Festival

Bolshoi Ballet’s “Don Quixote.” All images courtesy of Lincoln Center Festival

“They have traditionally had a style that is very dramatic. Their big trademark was that they were very, very strong classical dancers who were very dramatically expressive. But now I don’t see that they do that as much,” says Kisselgoff. “They seem to have become more academic, more in a style that emphasizes having the dancers dance very pure.

“When I saw them, the thing I noticed is that it’s not the old Bolshoi style. But it also depends on who’s dancing. It will be interesting to see them in New York.”

—Karyn D. Collins

Urban Bush Women Celebrate 30 Years on Stage

UrbanBushWomenPHOTO2-DukePerformances2014In business, a 30th anniversary is major news. In the arts world, especially the dance community, a 30th anniversary is cause for major celebration and reflection, especially given the tenuous existence of arts entities these days.

The latest to join the prestigious 30 Club is Urban Bush Women, the Brooklyn-based, all female dance ensemble founded in 1984 by choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar.

The company is celebrating its 30th anniversary by doing what it knows best—performing. In New York City, fans can enjoy free performances this summer including a July 12 performance at 8 p.m. in St. Mary’s Park in the Bronx. That performance is part of New York City’s Summer Stage series. A free, open level master class will be offered at 7 p.m. before the performance. Another free performance, rescheduled from an earlier rained out show, will be offered at a still to be determined date in Central Park.

Urban Bush Women Artistic Director Jawole Zo

Urban Bush Women Artistic Director Jawole Willa Jo Zollar

Zollar, who was not available to be interviewed for this story, has said in previous interviews that the company’s survival is emblematic of the sensibility behind it.

“It’s not something you start out thinking—‘I’m going to have a company for 25 years’,” she said during a 2009 interview. “At the same time, the company is about resilience and about strength, so I think those are qualities we embody within the work.

“In that way, I’m not surprised [to have lasted] since we embody the idea of strength and being able to find our voice under adverse circumstances. I’m not surprised to have survived.”

urban3Urban Bush Women has thrived by creating an oeuvre that melds celebrations of women—from the physical to the spiritual, with explorations that have ranged from pure physicality to themes based on historical issues and figures and current social issues such as the homeless.

Dancer Samantha Speis, who joined in 2008, still remembers watching Urban Bush Women for the first time and realizing what she was seeing was unlike anything else she had seen on a concert stage.

“I was absolutely blown away with the fact that I was seeing women who looked like me and who also were telling stories that were very familiar to me,” Speis said. “It also really struck me that it was a company that allowed an audience to experience its physical strength and vulnerability and sassiness and sensual power that women possess. We weren’t just one thing. We encompass a variety of things and that was shown on stage.”

urban1The community engagement activities that the company does, like the free workshop before the July 12 performance, were another aspect of Urban Bush Women that Speis appreciated.

“The concert dance and concert work is just one part of Urban Bush Women. The community engagement work is really our foundation,” Speis said. “The community engagement work is why we are telling these stories because these stories are coming from the community.

Images courtesy of Urban Bush Women

Images courtesy of Urban Bush Women

“Urban Bush Women isn’t just about dance. It’s about using dance as a catalyst for social change.”

For more information about Urban Bush Women and its upcoming performances, go online at www.urbanbushwomen.org.

—Karyn D. Collins

KHADIA “The Boss”

But love taught me

Who was, who was, who was the boss—Diana Ross, “The Boss”

Image courtesy of Miguel Domingez NYC CULTURE/Style Blog

Image courtesy of Miguel Domingez NYC CULTURE/Style Blog

And tonight in her New York City debut, KHADIA will be “The Boss.”

After singing backup for Prince, My’a, Janelle Monae, and R Kelly, as well as being a backup singer on “American Idol,” and “X-Factor,” KHADIA is stepping into her own sunshine, singing songs from debut CD at NYC’s The Bitter End.

And it’s been a while in the making. This Temple University graduate has paid her dues and it shows in her mastery of harmony, musical pitch, and styling. All those years on the road singing backup for top musical acts and her musical training at Temple has produced an artist that understands what audiences want and knows how to keep her voice in tiptop shape.

Image courtesy of Sandro Moran

Image courtesy of Sandro Moran

Though some music pundits may categorize her as a fusion artist, KHADIA is much more than that. Granted, KHADIA does meld musical genres such as rock, R&B, hip hop, and pop brilliantly. Still, with her injection of heartfelt, soulful undulations KHADIA elevates her mélange of musical genres to a seamless musical gift of harmonious delight.

Now, being “The Boss” comes with its own set of challenges. However, KHADIA is primed and ready to take the musical world by storm. And her debut performance at the Bitter End is you chance to witness this incredible artist’s gifts of joy, love and scintillating brilliance!!

—William S. Gooch

 

Savion Glover’s Meditative Aspirations through Dance

SavionGloveromphotoSavion Glover is inviting audiences to literally worship with him.

The call to prayer is a very serious and thoughtful chapter in Glover’s continued growth as an artist. His summer shows at New York’s Joyce Theater, not only introduce us to what will become his latest production for the coming year, but allows us a window into the latest developments of an artist some have unabashedly called a genius.

With his latest show, “Om,” Glover explores the spirit and his expression and celebration of it through dance. “Om” runs through July 12 at New York City’s Joyce Theater.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????This is certainly not the first time Glover has delved into the spiritual realm in his work. Indeed, there has been a steadily growing expression of spirit within his shows over the years. Increasingly, he has also worn photos around his neck that honor his tap mentors. Other expressions over the years have even extended to his way of positioning his hands—cupped and held in front of him—as if to receive a blessing or to pray.

But in “Om,” Glover takes us even deeper inside his own personal spiritual journey.

It should be said from the outset that this is not a show for the faint of heart or spirit. Those expecting an evening of happy, carefree razzle dazzle should look elsewhere; that’s never been Glover’s style anyway.

But, this may be a tough show to absorb even for the most avid tap dance fans and Glover followers. Indeed at the opening night performance, a steady trickle of audience members could be seen leaving about halfway into the 90 minute show (which is performed without intermission).

Certainly, the virtuosic brilliance that is Glover’s calling card is much in evidence. And it is nothing short of astounding to take in what is essentially a musical symphony emanating from Glover’s feet: the complex rhythmic patterns, the intricate shadings, the masterful control taking movements from almost pedestrian to warp speed.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????It cannot be said enough how brilliant Glover’s footwork is.

As a work of art, “Om” is as genuine and heartfelt a tribute as one could ever hope to see. Glover, it should be noted, has long taken great pains to offer tributes to the many mentors and artists who taught and inspired him. In “Om,” those tributes come not only in the numerous portraits placed around the stage amid a profusion of candles and religious symbols, but in the snippets of signature steps—the ultimate tap homage.

Especially for those familiar with the great hoofers, this is a feat in and of itself. As each passage built in intensity, Glover mixed in signature steps form these legendary hoofers with his own flourishes and expansions on rhythms only he could hear and decipher. Equally fascinating was his ability to coax rhythms out of thin air.

But as a theatrical experience, “Om” falls short.

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Images courtesy of Keith Sherman & Associates

There are intriguing forays that are never fully explored, such as Glover’s occasional rhythm trade-offs with his frequent collaborator Marshall Davis, Jr. and an ensemble passage by Glover, Davis along with a trio of dancers (Mari Fujibayashi, Keitaro Hosokawa and Olivia Rosenkrantz) danced tenderly to Mahalia Jackson’s classic rendition of the spiritual “Trouble of the World.”

And the show opens in mesmerizing fashion as Glover, clad in white, stands seemingly motionless amid a sea of candles, shimmering ripples of sound emanating from his feet. This serves as an undercurrent as we hear Glover’s voice reading first Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd …” and then The Lord’s Prayer. Adding to this aural symphony is a meditative hum of voices punctuated by gongs and other sounds associated with calls to worship.

But that was the extent of that road of exploration. From there, the presentation turned increasingly inward. Glover’s inner thoughts are reflected through his feet—dazzling, virtuosic, even brilliant.

In maintaining focus over his search for spiritual fulfillment, some may feel that Glover’s “Om” is perhaps, too literally, a physical manifestation of meditation. The experience for the audience is just as it would be for someone to watch someone else meditating or praying.

Image courtesy of twitter.com

Image courtesy of twitter.com

And therein lies the challenge for audiences: worship and prayer and meditation are really not intended to be spectator or theatrical events.

—Karyn D. Collins

 

Holler If Ya Hear Me: Liberation through Pain

"Holler if Ya Hear Me" cast. Image courtesy of Joan Marcus

“Holler if Ya Hear Me” cast. Image courtesy of Joan Marcus

Tupac on Broadway?

To say that the new musical “Holler if Ya Hear Me” is arriving with an equal amount of high expectations and wary skeptics waiting in the wings would be putting it mildly. “Holler” officially opens Thursday on Broadway at the Palace Theater and stars Saul Williams, the celebrated slam poet and actor-singer-musician who turned the poetry/spoken-word world on its ear in the indie film “Slam.” The show also features Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins and Tony nominee John Earl Jelks.

holler creative team edit todd kreidler, daryl waters, kenny leon, wayne cilento

“Holler” creative team from Left:
Todd Kreidler, Daryl Waters, Kenny Leon, Wayne Cilento
Photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia

Kenny Leon, who won a Tony earlier this month for his direction of the Broadway revival of “A Raisin in the Sun” that ended its run on June 15, is director of “Holler.” Others in the creative team— all Tony winners—are music supervisor Daryl Waters whose credits include “After Midnight,” “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk” and “Memphis” for which he won a Tony for Best Orchestrations;  and choreographer Wayne Cilento whose Broadway choreography credits include “Wicked” and “The Who’s Tommy” for which he won a Tony for choreography.

But “Holler” is not a Tupac biography. There are no mentions of Bloods and Crips, East Coast/West Coast rivalries, Suge Knight, Biggie Smalls, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg or any of the other key figures or events in Shakur’s real life story.

"Holler if You Hear Me" cast. Image courtesy of Joan Marcus

“Holler if Ya Hear Me” cast. Image courtesy of Joan Marcus

Instead, “Holler” is an original musical based on the music and poetry of the late rapper and actor. Tupac Shakur was only 25 when he was shot and killed in 1996 at the height of a long-running feud between East Coast and West Coast gang-affiliated factions in the rap music world. His shooting remains unsolved. But by the time he died, Shakur had become something of a legend—popularizing gangsta rap while at the same time captivating many in the arts world with his poetry and acting performances.

Like others associated with the show, writer Todd Kreidler  is careful to point out that “Holler” is not about Shakur. Indeed the show scrupulously avoids any mention of the East Coast/West Coast rap wars and sets its story in an unnamed city in the Midwest.

Saul Williams, Dyllon Burnside and Joshua Boone

Saul Williams, Dyllon Burnside and Joshua Boone in “Holler If  Ya Hear Me.” Image courtesy of Joan Marcus

“It’s not autobiographical. It’s not about Tupac’s life at all. It’s totally a fictional story that emerges out of the lyrics of his songs and out of his poetry,” Kreidler said.

Kreidler, who is well known in theater circles as the longtime dramaturg for playwright August Wilson, said he felt it was important not to do a biography treatment of Tupac’s story.

“I felt if I wrote a biographical story about Tupac,  it would get in the way of the lyrics, of the poetry,” Kreidler. “I felt that if I tried to deal with the whole East Coast/West Coast thing then that would absorb the energy of what he was writing about.”

Tonya Pinkins and Christopher Jackson in "Holler. Image courtesy of Joan Marcus

Tonya Pinkins and Christopher Jackson in “Holler.” Image courtesy of Joan Marcus

Instead Kreidler used Tupac’s music and poetry to create a story about a young man, fresh out of prison, who struggles to resist returning to the negative influences and violence that seems to be an integral part of his old neighborhood.

“This is the story of a lot of young men—trying to make a new start, but dealing with forces that keep pulling them back into their old life. It’s about love and friendship really. These are universal things within the world of Tupac’s lyrics,” Kreidler said. “You don’t have to know anything about hip hop or Tupac to understand the story. But if you’re attuned to issues like gun violence or gang violence there will be things that will be magnified for you. Those things are part of this story.”

Despite the universality of the story, the raw language of “Holler” promises to raise eyebrows in a Broadway world that has rarely featured hip hop on its stages. Indeed, Broadway has only seen three other productions featuring hip hop—Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk” in 1996, a Broadway rendition of Russell Simmons’ “Def Poetry Jam” in 2002, and the 2008 “In The Heights.”

Tupac Shakur from the movie "Poetic Justice"

Tupac Shakur from the movie “Poetic Justice”

Kreidler said from the outset he was committed to staying true to the blunt realities represented in Tupac’s work. “It was of upmost importance that I wasn’t going to dilute this or make it more palatable for Broadway consumption,” Kreidler said. “I will not make it easy or soften anything in the material. So the material is intact.”

That means the liberal uses of the n-word and other street terms that were a regular part of Tupac’s work are presented unfiltered throughout “Holler.”

Kreidler said the brutal frankness of Tupac’s music and poetry demanded a similar level of reality in “Holler.” Kreidler said he built the show’s story around the stories he heard in each of Shakur’s raps and poems.

“I just began to live in the music and in the words. I never wanted to lay a story on top of his work. I never wanted to make Tupac fit my story. So I listened,” Kreidler said. “I found that much of the contradictory nature of Tupac’s work made it ripe for dramatic material.”

Saul Williams image courtesy of Joan Marcus

Saul Williams image courtesy of Joan Marcus

Kreidler said having slam poet-actor-musician Saul Williams in the lead role has given “Holler” an essential edge. “Saul can paint the material. He brings something to the material, keeps it alive in a new way,” Kreidler said. “He brings a certain something that’s different than someone might who just comes from the traditional theater world. It’s just magical what he brings.”

Kreidler might not seem like an obvious candidate to pen “Holler”:  he’s a white guy from Pittsburgh.  But Kreidler said he became a fan after being schooled on the beauty of Tupac’s music by Kreidler’s mentor, the playwright August Wilson. At the time, the two were working on Wilson’s “King Hedley II.” But when Wilson discovered that Kreidler had never heard Tupac’s music, he insisted—in typically insistent Wilson fashion—that the writer learn. Immediately.

“When he found out I didn’t know Tupac’s ‘Dear Mama’ he went right out to the Virgin Megastore, bought the CD and ordered me to go listen to it instead of coming to rehearsal,” Kreidler recounted. “August said, ‘That CD in your hand, there’s a whole universe in that. There’s nothing in your life that’s not touched by that’.”

Now as then, Kreidler said he’s captivated by Tupac’s gifts for storytelling.  “We’re using storytelling and narrative and stage spectacle to bring the lyrics to life in a way that even hardcore fans, I hope, will say ‘My God, I know every lyric but I haven’t understood it in this way before’,” Kreidler said. “I know there are a lot of expectations out there. Some people are looking at us cockeyed. Some people are saying ‘you’re going to desecrate the work’

“We’ve taken apart something that people know and love but  I think we’ve found a way to creatively use the material without denigrating it.”

—Karyn D. Collins

 

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