Complexions Contemporary Ballet 25th Anniversary: Bittersweet and Bold!

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Left To Right: Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. Photo: Courtesy of Complexions Contemporary Ballet

Black History Month has concluded, and the month of February has been replete with exciting events that have left a lasting impression on the patrons of New York City’s cultural art scene. One worthwhile mention: Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s 25th anniversary benefit performance. The night began with host, Courtney B. Vance, veteran television and film actor and consummate supporter of dance programs around the globe, bringing enthusiasm and awareness to the fundraising efforts of the organization. The gala’s aim: To help build Complexions’ educational initiatives through scholarships, mentorship programs and the continued development of Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson’s methodology of dance training.

Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson co-founding artistic directors and executive directors of Complexions Contemporary Ballet both have incredible careers spanning decades of choreography and dance performances in some of the most prominent theater and dance companies around the world. Their passion for dance and experimentation with cutting edge performances has earned them worldwide recognition and thanks to their dedication, Complexions Contemporary Ballet celebrates their 25th anniversary this year. This marks the end of an era for Richardson. He is hanging up his dancing shoes as a full-time company member, and is passing the dance torch to a slew of new up-and-coming rising stars eager to enter the dance foray – particularly, the students from the pre-professional New Orleans Ballet Association part of Complexions Contemporary Ballet Educational program. They performed the world premiere of Nostalgia. These students’ focus and commitment to dance is admirable and witnessing the various body types and statures dancing in the company was refreshing. Long gone are the conventional rigid body type requirements of the past; progression and inclusivity is prevalent for the future of dance. Dwight Richardson performed Moonlight as his farewell number. His grace and flexibility are still in tact – as evidenced by his coordination with a chair prop – his dance moves melted seamlessly into the music score.

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Desmond Richardson, Photo: Gene Schiavone

Star Dust, a ballet tribute to David Bowie – conceptualized, staged and choreographed by Dwight Rhoden was thrillingly captivating since its premiere in Detroit, MI 2016 and continues to be present day. With new company members debuting their rendition, of this now signature Complexions performance; their dance moves and lip-syncing capabilities were in perfect unison to David Bowie’s haunting and melodious voice. Songs like Lazarus, Changes, Life On Mars, and Modern Love transport you to a time in place where anything is possible and dreams if big enough, manifest. The elaborate costumes, makeup and set design is a sight to behold. The iconic singer would’ve been proud.

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Complexions Contemporary Ballet Dance Company Performing Star Dust, Photo: Sharen Bradford

Complexion’s educational initiatives were offered in six cities this past year, allowing the company the ability to mentor and train hundreds of dancers. Although their season at the New York Joyce Theater has ceased, these dazzling superstars of contemporary ballet are traveling throughout the country to entertain and enchant audiences. Check out their upcoming performances and get tickets here!

“Nostalgia”

Choreography by: Dwight Rhoden, Staged by: Clifford Williams, Music by: Ryuichi Sakamoto, Lighting & Design by: Michael Korsch, Performed by: students from NORD/New Orleans Ballet Center for Dance: Angelle Brown, Kaleb Clausell, A’briel Mitchell, Scarlett Mitchell-Yang, Amari Patterson, Chloe Roberts, Manon Scialfa, Violette Stonebreaker, Marguerite Valadi, Amaya Williams, Special thanks to the staff and faculty of the New Orleans Ballet Association.

“Moonlight”

Choreography by: Dwight Rhoden, Music by: Kemp Harris, Lyric Composer: Dwight Rhoden, Lighting and Design by: Michael Korsch, Costume Design by: DR Squared, Performed by: Desmond Richardson

“Star Dust”

I. LAZARUS (Blackstar album 2016), II. CHANGES (Hunky Dory album 1971), III. LIFE ON MARS (Hunky Dory album 1971), IV. SPACE ODDITY (Space Oddity album 1969), V. 1984 (Diamond Dogs album 1974), VI. HEROES (Heroes album 1977) Sung by Peter Gabriel, VII. MODERN LOVE (Let’s Dance album 1983), VIII. ROCK AND ROLL SUICIDE (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars album 1972), IX. YOUNG AMERICANS (Young Americans album 1975), Performed by: The Company, Choreographed by: Dwight Rhoden, Music by: David Bowie, Staged by: Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, Costume Design and Construction: Christine Darch, Lighting and Set Design by: Michael Korsch

New York City Center Celebrates Its 75th Anniversary With Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – Captivating And Nostalgic!

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Photo: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Paul Taylor’s Piazzolla Caldera. Photo by Paul Kolnik

The holiday season is upon us and if you’re in search of cultural entertainment that will revitalize you – mentally and spiritually – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 60th Anniversary performances is just what you need. I recently attended the New York City Center’s 75th birthday celebration program featuring Alvin Ailey’s presentation of Piazzolla Caldera, The Golden Section, and Revelations. What a night of magical and transcendent dancing from the company’s members, and tribute to the choreographers that made these acts possible throughout the years at the revered New York City Center. The evening began with an homage to the New York City Center’s historic residency (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is their principal dance company) in New York’s cultural scene. Stage and film stars reminisced about the significance of this cultural landmark followed by an introduction from Alvin Ailey’s Artistic Director, Robert Battle.

The first act, Piazzolla Caldera, by critically acclaimed choreographer, Paul Taylor, fuses sensuality and the beautiful rhythms of traditional tango with four distinct dance numbers. The dancers role-play fiery confrontations between working class men and women, moving gracefully in a dimly lit club background to set the mood. Duets and trios of dancers interpreting lost loves and predatory conquests round out this act. The melodies emanating from the conventional accordion synonymous with Argentinean tango have never been sultrier.

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Photo: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Jacqueline Green and Danica Paulos in Twyla Tharp’s The Golden Section. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Remembering one of my favorite revolutionary and experimental new wave bands from the 80s, The Talking Heads, I would have never imagined their songs interpreted to modern dance ballet. Yet, it happened. Listening to David Byrne’s voice electric voice wafting through the theater and witnessing the dancers move to his words was exhilarating. Premiering in the Broadway production of The Catherine Wheel in 1981 by Tony Award winning choreographer, Twyla Tharp, The Golden Section pushes the physicality of dancers with aero-dynamic like movements and superhuman leaps. Truly breathtaking to see. Although over 37 years-old, the production withstands the test of time and has an enchanting futuristic appeal.

The final act of the night was Revelations, created and choreographed by Alvin Ailey at the age of 29 in 1960. Inspired by Alvin Ailey’s childhood memories of church service in his hometown of Texas and the works of James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, laid the foundation for Ailey’s signature work of art. I’ve been fortunate to see Revelations more than once and as you listen to the songs you’re powerless to the grasp of the emotional ride you embark upon with feelings of sorrow, grief, lament, joy, hope and triumph; a tribute to the African-American cultural experience, its message is universal and speaks to the resiliency of the human spirit.

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Photo: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations. Photo by Christopher Duggan

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s repertoire of performances never disappoints and pushes the boundaries of creative expression every season. Whether it’s modern dance or traditional ballet, there is something for everyone this holiday season. Don’t miss out on these upcoming spectacular performances now running through December 30th. Click here, for Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theater schedule.

Piazzolla Caldera: Choreography by Paul Taylor; Restaged by Richard Chen See; Music by: Astor Piazzolla, Jerzy Peterburshsky; Set, Décor, and Costumes by: Santo Loquasto; Lighting by: Jennifer Tipton; Song: “El sol sueño” Performed by: The Company,  Song: “Concierto para quintet” by: Jacqueline Green, Belen Pereyra, Yannick Lebrun; Song: “Celos” Performed by: Daniel Harder, Michael Francis, McBride, Ghrai DeVore, Jamar Roberts; Song: “Escualo” Performed by: The Company
The Golden Section: Choreography by Twyla Tharp; Restaged by Shelley Washington; Music: David Byrne; Set, Décor, and Costumes by Santo Loquasto; Lighting by Jennifer Tipton; Performed by: Samantha Figgins, Jacqueline Harris, Jacqueline Green, Danica Paulos, Sarah Daley-Perdomo, Constance Stamatiou, Solomon Dumas, Clifton Brown, Chalvar Monteiro, Venard J. Gilmore, Michael Jackson Jr., Michael Francis McBride, Jeroboam Bozeman
REVELATIONS: Choreography by Alvin Ailey; Music: Traditional; Décor and Costumes by Ves Harper; Costumes for “Rocka My Soul” redesigned by Barbara Forbes; Lighting Design by Nicola Cernovitch; Song: “Buked” Performed by: Hope Boykin, Megan Jakel, Jessica Pinkett, Yazzmeen Laidler, Courtney Celeste Spears, Khalia Campbell, Solomon Dumas, Jamar Roberts, Riccardo Battaglia Song: “Daniel” Performed by:  Daniel Harder, Hope Boykin, Fana Tesfagiorgis, Song: “Fix Me” Performed by: Sarah Daley-Perdomo, Jamar Roberts, Song: “Processional” Performed by: Kanji Segawa, Megan Jakel, Solomon Dumas, Riccardo Battaglia, Song: “Water” Performed by: Jacqueline Green, Vernard J. Gilmore, Khalia Campbell, Song: “Ready” Performed by: Clifton Brown, Song: “Sinner Man” Performed by: Michael Jackson, Jr., Yannick Lebrun, Solomon Dumas, Songs:  “The Day is Past and Gone,” “You May Run On” and “Rocka My Soul,” Performed by The Company.

Review: ‘Antigone in Ferguson’ Greek Mythology, Modern Times, and Social Justice Parallels

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Photo: Gregg Richards, De-Andrea Blaylock-Johnson (center) and choir members 

With so many transgressions of police brutality plaguing African-American communities in our country, daily – it’s quite easy to slip into a path of desensitization. The Harlem Stage in collaboration with Theater of War Productions, the citizens of St. Louis and Ferguson refuse to let that transpire with the production of Antigone in Ferguson. One-part play with gospel chorus inflections; one-part panel discussion and equal parts entertainment, patrons of this unconventional presentation are in store for an eye opening cultural awakening. With scenes from Sophocles’ ancient Greek play, staged readings performed by leading television, film, theater actors and an unusual – yet extraordinarily talented choir – comprised of law enforcement, activists, educators, and counselors – form this experimental show.

At first, I couldn’t fathom staged readings in lieu of customary scenes with verbal and physical components performed against picturesque backdrops to illustrate the highly popularized Sophocles’ play, Antigone – done in past iterations, similar to the Classical Theatre of Harlem Stage production I covered earlier this the summer. The synopis: Antigone, it’s about a young woman who is adamant about burying her brother, Polyneices, whose slain body lays lifeless in the ancient city of Thebes at the end of the civil war, against the wishes of newly crowned King Creon. The courageous Antigone is ready to risk life and limb to honor her deceased brother and seek a proper burial for him even though he was considered an enemy of the state. The parallels, from this more than 2,500-year-old play, couldn’t be timelier, as this rendition focuses on the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown Jr. in 2014 at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, MO. The subsequent African-American deaths by white police officers that followed in our country, the lack of action this administration demonstrates, and the perseverance of movements such as Black Lives Matter to affect change.

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Photo: Gregg Richards, (L to R) Actors Tamara Tunie and Tate Donovan

What’s fascinating about this production is that the mix of stage readings from acclaimed actors Tate Donovan (King Creon) from the Damages and The O.C. series, Tony award-winning actress Tamara Tunie (Antigone), Chris Myers from the She’s Gotta Have It and Netflix’s Sneaky Pete series (as Creon’s son, Haemon, among other roles) and Chinasa Obguagu from the Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and A Walk Among the Tombstones films (as Ismene, Antigone’s sister, and Eurydice, Creon’s wife) are instrumental in telling the story, yet their performances don’t overshadow the focal point of this production – which is: solutions communities and lawmakers – can and should – come up with to end senseless deaths as a result of police brutality and gun violence across the nation with much needed conversation. Panel discussions with Michael Brown Sr., community members-turned-activists describing first-hand accounts of the night of the Ferguson shooting, members of the Man Up Project, therapists and individuals committed to make an impact and let their voices be heard – moved the audience in the theater that night: including me.

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Photo Credit: Gregg Richards, Panel (L to R): Erica Wright, Lt. Latricia Allen, Michael Brown Sr.

Artistic director and moderator of the Antigone in Ferguson production, Bryan Doerries has presented over 60 performances across all five boroughs. Antigone in Ferguson at Harlem Stage marks a departure from the company’s history of nomadic presentations. Having mounted over 700 events at a range of venues around the world, from Guantanamo Bay to a playground in Brownsville, Brooklyn, this extended run (September 13 – October 13) will be the first time Theater of War Productions will embed itself in one location for an extended period of time. Exclusively supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the 30 free (RSVP required) performances at Harlem Stage will offer expanded opportunities for community participation in this innovative social justice project. Don’t miss upcoming performances by actors: Frankie Faison (Coming to America, The Wire) Chris Noth (Sex and the City franchise, Law & Order), Samira Wiley (Orange Is the New Black), and Kathryn Erbe (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) to name a few. For more information on Antigone in Ferguson and upcoming schedule, click here.

‘Antigone’ Review: Modern, Timely and Necessary

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Alexandria King as Antigone, Photo: Richard Termine

Summer in New York City is replete with outdoor activities to fulfill the public’s yearning for quality music, film, fitness and cultural events. How do you choose from so many worthwhile attractions? If you were a theatre and cultural arts aficionado you’d be remiss not to take advantage of The Classical Theatre of Harlem’s free production of “Antigone.” This modern revival of Sophocles’ Greek tragedy is inspired by the Paul Roche adaption and infuses African-American traditions while adhering to the Greek tragedy format. Presented at the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater at Marcus Garvey Park and referred as the ‘Uptown’ Shakespeare in the Park by Ty Jones, Producing Artistic Director of The Classical Theatre of Harlem, lead actor in “Antigone”, and fellow theatre creatives – the space is conducive and complements “Antigone’s” production and set design with the names of those killed by police brutality.

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Alexandria King and Ty Jones as Antigone and King Creon, Photo: Richard Termine

Although the cornerstone of Greek plays emphasize tragedy, what stands out in this particular rendition and lauded by Carl Cofield, Director of “Antigone,” is the valor of conviction. The story of “Antigone” opens at the end of a battle between Antigone’s brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, both were vying for control of Thebes and died in combat. Ultimately, King Creon claims the throne as the new leader and proclaims one brother a hero (Eteocles) while the other a usurper. Antigone demands her slain brother (Polynices) receive a proper burial against the king’s wishes. The timeliness of “Antigone” couldn’t be more appropriate as we face an administration attempting to impose their unjust system on its citizens – and most of these citizens are challenging their ideology and taking to the streets to protests their policies – to salvage our Democracy. Alexandria King plays the main character of Antigone. Don’t be fooled by her small stature opposite King Creon, Ty Jones’s 6 ft. build. King’s powerful voice commands the stage and she does a superb job of portraying the defiant and valiant Antigone. Jones, known for his portrayal of Agent Donovan in the POWER series on the Starz Network is a natural as enforcer and upholder of law and order. But, Creon’s family and citizens of Thebes are reluctant in sharing his views.

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Ensemble from Elisa Monte Dance Company, Photo: Richard Termine

The choreography by Tiffany Rea-Fisher is stellar and the talented singers in the chorus are sensational. “Antigone” offers hope reflected in the selfless acts of sacrifice in the name of justice and even though the play, originally written by Sophocles in 442 B.C. – 2,500 years later, stands the test of time. Check out the free production of “Antigone” produced by The Classical Theater of Harlem at the Richard Richards Amphitheater at Marcus Garvey Park through July 29th, for more information, click here.

CREDITS:

The company of “Antigone” includes: Obie Award winner Ty Jones (as Creon; POWER, Julius Caesar), Alexandria King (as Antigone), Kahlil X. Daniel (as Teiresias), Avon Haughton (as Haemon), Ava McCoy (as Ismene), and Adaku Okpi (as Eurydice). The ensemble features dancers from Elisa Monte Dance.

Inspired by Paul Roche’s Adaptation of “Antigone” by Sophocles
Director: Carl Cofield
Choreographer: Tiffany Rea-Fisher
Costume Designer: Lex Liang
Lighting Designer: Alan C. Edwards
Scenic Designer: Christopher & Justin Swader
Sound Designer: Curtis Craig
Production Stage Manager: Megan Sprowls
Projections Designer: Katherine Freer
Props: Samantha Shoffner

Review: ‘Sancho: An Act of Remembrance’ Emotional, Provocative and Timely

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Photo: Robert Day

If Paterson Joseph’s name doesn’t automatically invoke the phrase “thespian of our time”, then the acknowledgement is long overdue. Joseph’s career trajectory spans over two decades with a vast array of Shakespearean and other notable stage performances, film and television series (The Beach, Aeon Flux, NBC’s “Timeless,” and “Doctor Who,”). The talented and versatile British actor brings to life Sancho: An Act of Remembrance to the National Black Theatre in Harlem with an undeniable vibrancy and a steadfast energy. Written, conceived and performed as a one-man show, Joseph commands the audiences’ attention as soon a he steps on stage.

Paterson Joseph begins with a brief intro to his entertainment background and seamlessly segues into the character he’s portraying: Charles Ignatius Sancho. Sancho, an African man born on a slave ship – who was able to rise from poverty and servitude in 18th century England and become an educated social satirist, composer, abolitionist and ultimately a man of refinement evidenced by his portrait – painted and immortalized – by renowned artist, Thomas Gainsborough. I can’t recall mention of this prominent activist in school and welcomed the education lesson of this character’s vital role in becoming the first British-African to cast a vote in England in 1774; quite a feat for a man of color in this era in history. Joseph does a phenomenal job in reenacting Sancho’s birth, early childhood, and life-changing influences that led to his financial independence as a businessman within the oppressive environment bestowed upon him. Joseph transitions between the narrative with comedic and emotionally charged dialogue with ease. And as a theater patron, you can’t help but glance around the intimate setting, and notice other patrons are captivated by Paterson Joseph’s storytelling ability.

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Engraving by: Francesco Bartolozzi

The theme of oppression and strength of conviction to affect change is so timely in our current political system. This play is more than homage to a man who paved the way for British Africans, rose above unimaginable adversity and triumphed in light of the circumstances surrounding him; it’s a testament to the spirit of man and the belief that change and acceptance of marginalized groups is possible. Sancho: An Act of Remembrance will be playing at the Black National Theatre through May 6th. For more information on the performance and to get tickets, click here:

Conceived, written and performed by: Paterson Joseph; Co-Director: Simon Godwin; Music and Sound Design: Ben Park; Designer: Michael Vale; Lighting Designer: Lucrecia Briceno; Costume Designer: Linda Haysman.