Ballet Hispanico: Latin Enough for All

Image  courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

“El Beso” image courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

How does a dance company maintain its signature aesthetic while moving into the 21st Century and expanding its audience demographic? That is a question that Ballet Hispanico may have grappled with in the past but has now solidly put to rest.

Recently, in a Q&A after one of the company’s recent performances at the Joyce Theater in New York City, an audience member expressed concern over the fact that Ballet Hispanico’s current repertoire seemed neither very balletic or culturally Latin in scope.  This conundrum of sorts begs the larger question of what is the definition of Hispanic in today’s culture and the dance community at large.

Should the repertoire of the Dance Theatre of Harlem only include works that are based in African American culture; should a flamenco dance company only perform traditional flamenco dance works, or should the New York City Ballet’s repertoire be made up mostly of ballets by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins? And are audiences disappointed and nonplussed when they get something more than the names of certain dance companies imply?

Based on the repertoire presented by Ballet Hispanico at the Joyce Theater, artistic director Eduardo Vilaro has not only maintained the signature aesthetic of Ballet Hispanico established by founder Tina Ramirez, but expanded the company’s repertoire to include ballets that stretch the  dancers and reflects a modern Hispanic world. Latin culture goes beyond lacy mantillas, flamenco, folklorico dances, the Latin ballroom dances of the salsa, baso doble, cha cha, and samba, or swarthy men in boleros strutting around with machismo.  Hispanic culture embraces a huge range of movement styles, cultures and musical influences beyond the recognizable iconic images and sounds.

Image  courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

“Conquer” image courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

That said; the expansion of Ballet Hispanico’s repertoire was most evident in Miguel Mancillas’ raw, athletic “Conquer.”  “Conquer” explores the rawness and potentially unbridled inhibition that can be found in organic movement.  This dance work also examines how uninhibited movement can be a commentary on how humans can use power and possession to manipulate and control space and other people. This is a powerful dance piece that demands a high level of virtuosity.  Standout dancers in this work were Christopher Hernandez and Christopher Bloom.

Image  courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

“El Beso” image courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s “El Beso” does employ familiar Hispanic icons, but mostly in the set design and music. Angel Sanchez’s asymmetrical, fluid costumes with trending cutouts demonstrates the melding of the old and the new which is so evident in this work. “El Beso” or “The Kiss” presents itself in variety of incarnations; men kissing women, women kissing men, same sex kissing and affection, unwanted kisses, stolen kisses, and a sundry. The movement style of this work is very much in the vein of Twyla Tharp’s “Push Comes to Shove,” minus the pointe shoes. Still, “El Beso” perhaps has more warmth than Tharp’s “Push Comes to Shove.” Standout performers in “El Beso” were Min-Tzu Li and Jamal Rashann Callender.

One of the newest acquisitions in the repertoire, “Show.Girl,” examines the Latin female identity as seen through Miami’s cabaret or showgirls—a culture that is still thriving in Miami. The coquettishness and cattiness speaks to the games that women play with each other and themselves in their quest to define themselves. Miami-based choreographer Rosie Herrera brings in a lot of Latin Quarter elements into this ballet, from beaded, sequined showgirl costumes and headdresses to big white feather fan dances to gestures and stances reminiscent of showgirls from the 50s and 60s.

"Show.Girl" image courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

“Show.Girl” image courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

Though this piece is heavily influenced by the Latin nightclub culture of Miami, many of the movements and performance art influences come straight of a Pina Bausch Wupperthal Theatre dance work.  The standout dancer in “Show.Girl” is undoubtedly Jessica Alejandra Wyatt. With her retirement from the stage, she will be well missed.

Eduardo Vilaro’s assemblage of works that speak to the breath and depth of Latin culture demonstrates that dance, like culture, is ever evolving. And while the past should be honored, it is no place to live. Disappointed that Ballet Hispanico is not Hispanico enough, humm, check your culture quotient!!

—William S. Gooch

Peter Fletcher’s “Simple Gifts”


Image courtesy of Peter Fletcher

Image courtesy of Peter Fletcher

Every time classical guitarist Peter Fletcher appears at Carnegie Hall, he has a packed house. Whether audience members are hearing him for the first time or were so enraptured by his technical skill and poised delivery that they’ve become diehard fans, Fletcher understands how to put together a repertoire that keeps audiences wanting more. And that is his genius.

On April 11, 2015 Fletcher’s program contained the standard fare of baroque music transcribed for the guitar, Edvard Grieg pieces—of which he is one of the few guitarist that includes transcribed Grieg works in his repertoire—and of course, the  expected classic Spanish guitar warhorses. This varied assemblage of classical music from a wide range of periods and styles is part of Fletcher charm and for those who have astutely followed his career an expected eclecticism.  Interestingly, for this Weill Recital Hall performance Fletcher included some musical works that were unusual additions and also demonstrates that Fletcher is beginning to focus his attention on educating audiences on the wide range of music that can be transcribed for classical guitar.

For those avid Peter Fletcher fans it is obvious that the man has technical acuity that goes beyond many classical guitarists currently heard in recordings on in recital halls. And, while Fletcher does include works that display his immense pyrotechnical skill set, he seems currently to be more focused on expanding the classical guitar repertoire.

Peter_Fletcher_03Case in point, “Simple Gifts,” the well-known Shaker hymn, on this occasion transcribed by John and BJ Sutherland is not a work that is associated with classical guitar. However, in this outing Fletcher’s gentle and somewhat transcendental rendering of this familiar Shaker hymn proves that his choice in nontraditional material fits within the scope and evolution of where classical guitar is heading.

Other highlights of the evening were “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” Hector Villa-Lobos’ ever popular “Prelude No. 1,” and the surprise of the evening, Niccolo Paganini’s well-known “Caprice No. 24,” transcribed by Fletcher.  “Caprice No. 24” when played on classical guitar takes on a different nuance and mood. Fletcher’s transcription rendered this familiar work more warmth with darker tones than traditionally played which perhaps is due in part to the warm tones of classical guitar but should also be attributed to Fletcher’s ingenious and superb transcription.

In this outing, Fletcher’s “Simple Gifts” appear to be the great joy he gives to his devoted fans and newcomers combined with his gift of expanding the classical guitar repertoire. Well done, Fletcher!!

—William S. Gooch

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Hope Boykin and LInda Celeste Sims

AAADT's Hope Boykin and Linda Celeste Sims. Images courtesy of Richard Chalmers

AAADT’s Hope Boykin and Linda Celeste Sims. Images courtesy of Richard Chalmers and Andrew Eccles, respectively

Audiences come to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for many things—its diverse repertory, its celebration of and reflections on various aspects of black culture and its vibrant performers.

And through the years, the Ailey company has become especially known for its tradition of showcasing the performances of strong, dynamic women.  The list includes some of the most distinctive dancers in the dance world—Carmen de Lavallade (who was a principal guest performer though not a regular company member), Sylvia Waters, Denise Jefferson, Sarita Allen, April Berry, Dwana Smallwood, Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell, and Renee Robinson. Of course there’s also the company’s most famous dancer—Judith Jamison, the statuesque star who succeeded Ailey as artistic director of the company.

Today’s Ailey company boasts another generation of standout women. Two of them—Hope Boykin and Linda Celeste Sims—are to be honored during the company’s New York season which is now running through January 4 at New York’s City Center Theater.

Hope Boykin in Rushing's "Odetta." Image courtesy of Steve Wilson

Hope Boykin in Rushing’s “Odetta.” Image courtesy of Steve Wilson

In addition to the special “Celebrating the Women of Ailey” program on December 16, this season will also see the premiere of Matthew Rushing’s “Odetta,” celebrating the life and spirit of the famed folk singer and company premieres of the pas de deux from  “After the Rain,” by Christopher Wheeldon; “Suspended Women,” by Jacqulyn Buglisi; and Hofesh Shechter’s “Uprising.”

Also scheduled are company classics like “Revelations” along with revivals of favorites like Ulysses Dove’s “Bad Blood,” and “Polish Pieces” by Hans van Manen.

Boykin and Sims said being in the spotlight of the upcoming “Celebrating the Women of Ailey” program has given them a moment to reflect on their careers and their place in the Ailey legacy.

Linda Celeste Sims in "Cry". Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Linda Celeste Sims in “Cry”. Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik

“I feel very privileged to be associated with such great women that made a mark in this company,” said Sims, who was recognized by the dance community with a Bessie Award for her performances over the years. “I believe that hard work does pay and I’m always looking to push boundaries.”

Boykin admitted she too had never thought of herself that way, noting that between her muscular body type and very close cropped hairdo, she was atypical in many ways.

Hope Boykin in "Festa Barocco." Image courtesy of Steve Vaccariello

Hope Boykin in “Festa Barocco.” Image courtesy of Steve Vaccariello

“I’ll be very honest. I think that in a very narrow way, on a very small scale, I would say that I’m not like anyone else. To a newer audience I’m distinctive,” Boykin said. “But I’m still a woman who loves to dance and loves what it means to be in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. There’s definitely a pride I take from being a member of this company” … “I might not necessarily look like everyone else, but that’s okay.”

Glenn Allen SIms and Linda Celeste Sims in Wheeldon's "After the Rain." Image courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Glenn Allen SIms and Linda Celeste Sims in Wheeldon’s “After the Rain.” Image courtesy of Paul Kolnik

In addition to the special program celebrating the women of Ailey, both Sims and Boykin will be featured in other special roles in the new repertory for this season. Sims, will be featured in “After the Rain” with her husband, Glenn Allen Sims. Boykin will be dancing the lead in Rushing’s “Odetta.” Both noted that they still find plenty of motivation to push forward, especially when dancing roles like these along with other pieces in the Ailey repertory.

“Every performance is a new performance. We have a new audience. I’m standing next to someone different and that creates a new experience,” Boykin said. “You can’t phone it in. Each relationship is very different. You have different dynamics with different people onstage” …“That’s what makes being in a repertory company so incredible. It’s fresh all the time.”

Added Sims, “What motivates me and pushes me is my love for dance. If you don’t’ love what you do then stop doing it. Dance, music motivates me, because it’s like in my blood. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

—Karyn D. Collins


A Revived American Dance Machine Brings Broadway Classics to the Masses

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

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

Image courtesy of

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

Image courtesy of

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

The Bessies Celebrate 30 Years


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.


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:

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
Produced by 651 Arts at Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts

Mallory Catlett
This Was the End
The Chocolate Factory

Liz Gerring
Montclair State University

Maria Hassabi
The Kitchen

John Jasperse
Within Between
New York Live Arts

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

Akram Khan
White Light Festival

Sarah Michelson
Whitney Museum of American Art

MIMULUS Cia de Danca
The Joyce

Okwui Okpokwasili in collaboration with Peter Born
Bronx Gothic

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.


© 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.


“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.”


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.


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

—Karyn D. Collins

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