Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Trials of Muhammad Ali, director, Bill Siegel, on Independent Lens, Monday, April 14, 2014




Khalilah Camacho-Ali
Bill Siegel's Trials of Muhammad Ali shows an evolution of consciousness rarely if ever seen when looking at an iconic figure, in this case the greatest boxer of the twentieth century Muhammad Ali. In this story of Ali, Siegel crafts a tale that without preconception allows his audience an opportunity to enter the Nation of Islam Ali as Cassius Clay did. We meet the influential men in young Ali's life, his financial supporters -- a Louisville, Kentucky powerhouse and a spiritual support network under the leadership of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. With candid interviews with NOI leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, Ali's older brother, Rahman, his former first wife, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, his daughter by a later marriage, and others including much of Ali via archival newsreel, we see a very different picture of Ali emerge.
Ali and El Hajj Malik El Shabazz

Muhammad Ali
Sharp and on point within and without the ring, Ali as a youth is impressionable and smart--his relationship with his first wife, who though younger, gave him excellent guidance which Ali listened to. These are some of the more poignant parts of the film. I love the courtship and genuine love between the couple and that of his brother, Malcolm X, and admiration of others including the Elijah Muhammad.

Ali's trials start long before the one that strips him of his title--it starts when he changes his name and joins the NOI, when he decides to take the less traveled path, the one where he is his own man--a free thinker, independent. The media doesn't like his choice and later he is made to pay -- financially and morally when he refuses to go to war. The slander is unbelievable. I wonder if such would be allowed today.

Farrakhan says Ali's says to him, "Still a N-gger," today, at the height of his career and reputation. What does he mean?

Ali's decision to be a conscientious objector is a choice Martin King supports despite religious differences. This is an important point, because it shows that the division imposed philosophically between Malcolm X and Martin King was just that, an imposition which had no reality. It was more a divide and conquer tactic by the enemy of peace and justice. The way the scene is set up here, King's killing seems directly linked to his position on the unjust war.

The suffering this court ordered refusal to allow Ali to box and Ali's move into public speaking and worldwide travel is a very interesting part of the film as is the court's final decision about whether Ali would be sent to prison or the case dismissed. We see Ali grow or mature into his public persona as he engages college students at home and heads of governments abroad.

We have all heard about Ali's refusal to go to Vietnam. I hadn't realized that his leader, the Hon. Elijah Muhammad had also been a conscientious objector. I also hadn't known that Ali's life was threatened, his house set on fire the same day as Malcolm X's assassination.

Through it all, Ali is as witty and quick thinking in response to propaganda and prejudicial attacks as he is to physical  blows in the ring. It  is magical to listen and watch. The scenes of Ali in the ring, ending matches in the first round, second, third--he is skillful, I'd think, as he taunted his opponent jabbing him wearing him down before knocking him out. From the1960 Gold Medal Olympic championship fight, light heavyweight division, between Ali (US) then 18, against Zigzy Pietrzykowski (Poland), on, controversy seemed to follow the charismatic athlete.

There is a great scene in Trials with another Olympian, gold medalist, Tommie Smith who along with bronze medalist John Carlos raised his fist (for Ali). Smith says the gesture was for Ali. This was in 1968, a year after Ali's petition for amnesty was denied. Carlos, Smith and Austrian silver medalist Peter Norman all wore Olympic Project for Human Rights badges and all were ostracized when they returned home, for this political stance, just as Ali was when he refused to go to war. Veteran athletes Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis didn't agree with Ali's position on the war either, while Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad didn't agree with each other, but both supported Ali.

Who knew? I certainly didn't. Smith speaks candidly about this time in the film. I found the calculated symbolism in this moment, amazing.

"After the race was completed, the three went to the podium for their medals to be presented by David Cecil, 6th Marquess of Exeter. The two U.S. athletes received their medals shoeless, but wearing black socks, to represent black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride, Carlos had his tracksuit top unzipped to show solidarity with all blue collar workers in the U.S. and wore a necklace of beads which he described "were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage.' All three athletes wore Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badges after Norman, a critic of Australia's White Australia Policy, expressed empathy with their ideals.Sociologist Harry Edwards, [UC Berkeley] the founder of the OPHR, had urged black athletes to boycott the games; reportedly, the actions of Smith and Carlos on 16 October 1968[2] were inspired by Edwards' arguments" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_Olympics_Black_Power_salute).

Muhammad Ali was a force. He still is now as his legacy inspires others worldwide to stand for what they believe and resist the tendency to compromise their beliefs even when the consequences are frequently unbearable.

The film is screening at the Rafael Film Center, April 21, 2014. To find out more about the film, visit: http://thetrialsofali.com/see.html

http://www.kartemquin.com/sites/default/files/films/presskits/TRIALSOFMUHAMMADALI_KinoLorberPresskit.pdf








Monday, April 14, 2014

Handel’s Messiah, Palm Sunday, April 13, 2014, at Cathedral of Christ The Light, Oakland


It’s hard to follow the Messiah without a program, especially when it starts at 21. His Yoke is Easy, and His Burthen is Light. When I asked for a program when I entered and was told there was none, yet saw lots of people in the audience with programs—I thought, perhaps they’d attended Oakland East Bay Symphony’s Notes from India last month and kept the program. I still had mine and would have brought it, if I’d known before there would be none at the concert that afternoon.

I looked up The Messiah on my phone as I listened and read a synopsis of Part 1 and then Part 2. I tried to guess where we were, but it wasn’t until 44. “Hallelujah!” when the entire audience joined in with the guest soloists and Oakland East Bay Symphony Chorus to sing that I knew where we were.

As I watched the conductor, Dr. Morrow, do her thing so well—arms often in the air as she looked to the left or right or rear—often performing a variety of these moves simultaneously.

Lost, I wished there were supertitles so I could follow along. Everyone knows one cannot always figure out lyrical content; however, I have to say that whenever the chorus sang I could make out the words—I don’t know why; however in Part Three, all was clear—especially soprano Shawnette Sulker’s 45:  “I know that my Redeemer liverth” and 52. “If God be for us, who can be against us?”   Baritone, Zachary Gordon’s 47. “Behold, I tell you a mystery” and 48. “The trumpet shall sound” was also wonderful as were all of Gordon’s dramatically assessable solos. His vocal range almost made up for the missed trumpet—

The other two guest soloists, Darron Flagg (tenor) and Amy Bouchard (Mezzo-Soprano) were equally skilled and delightful in their duet, 50. “O Death, where is thy sting?”

The small OEBS orchestra was intimate. I moved on Hallelujah and sat on the front row where I could see the musicians—it was really lovely how the violinists and organists, Rudy de Vos, responded to the text and to the soloists, often going into more specifics about the stanza just before or just to follow.


The closing choral “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” was splendid. Loved the way the piece handled remarkably by concert mistress, Dr. Lynne Morrow, showed off in the finale the wonderful voices in the Chorus. We were sitting near the sopranos, but all the sections (3) were at the height of their craft. Everyone was smiling as we wondered—perhaps I should say, I wondered, how many literal amen choruses would there be before the end, not that I was complaining. 

Though an Easter concert, it is more often performed in December around the Christmas holidays. I am going to look for a sing-along Messiah this December and practice in the meantime. The cathedral wasn’t full, but the audience filled the room.  It is not every day that one sees a black woman leading a symphony chorus.

At the Paramount Theatre in Oakland in a bit more than a month, Friday, May 16, 2014, 8 p.m. the OEBQ with the Oakland Symphony Chorus with special guest Thomas Glenn (tenor), will perform the Anniversary Season Finale: Berlioz Requiem. 


Listen to an interview with the Music Director, Lynne Morrow, on Wanda's Picks, April 11, 2014. She is on at 9:30 a.m.
http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks/2014/04/11/wandas-picks-radio-showdrlynn-morrow-conductshandels-oebs-choruss-messiah


Friday, April 11, 2014

Wanda's Picks Radio Friday, April 11, 2014

Dan Hoyle joins us to talk about his new play, written in collabiration with Tony Taccone, Game On, directed by Rick Lombardo, at San Jose Rep through April 19, 2014. https://www.sjrep.com/

Bonnie Boswell
joins us via the archives (2012) to talk about The Power Broker: Whitney Young's Fight for Civil Rights http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/powerbroker/

Carl Lumbly
joins us to talk about August Wilson's Fences, directed by Derrick Sanders which opens at Marin Theatre Company April 10, tonight and continues through May 11 (after multiple extensions). www.marintheatre.org 415-388-5208

We close with a conversation about opera and musical theatre with Dr. Lynne Morrow, Musical Director, Oakland Symphony Chorus, conducting Handel's Messiah, this weekend, April 13, 2014, 5:30 p.m.at Cathedral of Christ The Light, Oakland oaklandsymphonychorus.org; joining her are Kelly Gregg (producer) and Sammi Cannold (director) of the Immersive Production of Les Miserables at Stanford University, April 11-12; 17-19 8 p.m. in the University's Memorial Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. http://musical.stanford.edu/tickets.html


Music: Anthony Brown's AfroAsian Orchestra's Afro Blue;  Abraham Burton's Nebulai.

Visit:  http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks/2014/04/11/wandas-picks-radio-showdrlynn-morrow-conductshandels-oebs-choruss-messiah

Friday, April 04, 2014

Zaccho's "Dying While Black and Brown" free Performance


Choreography and Direction by Joanna Haigood Music by Marcus Shelby
Originally commissioned by Equal Justice Society

Featuring performing artists Antoine Hunter, Rashad Pridgen,Travis Santell Rowland & Matthew Wickett
 
Friday, April 4, 2014   8pm
panel discussion following performance

Saturday, April 5, 2014 2pm

FREE

ZACCHO Studio
1777 Yosemite Avenue  #330
San Francisco, CA 94124
 (415) 822-6744
www.zaccho.org


The performance on Friday, April 4th will be followed by a panel discussion moderated by Michael Laurence. Mr. Laurence is Executive Director of the Habeas Corpus Resource Center, a California Judicial Branch agency created in 1999 to provide representation to death-row inmates in state and federal habeas proceedings. Panelists include Ana Zamora, Senior Policy Advocate at ACLU and former Program Director at Death Penalty Focus, and James Bell, Founder and Executive Director of Burns Institute, a leading nonprofit in the field of juvenile justice and the reduction of ethnic and racial disparities.

The performance on Saturday, April 5th will be followed by an Artist & Director Q&A.

Wanda's Picks Radio Show Friday, April 4, 2014

Today we feature the director and founder of the Oakland International Film Festival, April 3-6, 2014 in multiple venues -- http://oaklandinternationalfilmfestival.com/ (510) 238-4734, and the kick off of the www.1stSaturdays.com

William Rhodes joins us to talk about his latest initiative, The Nelson Mandela Quilt Project, and an Art Open House fundraiser this weekend, Sunday, Apr. 6, 2014. The mission of the project is to create an international exchange – facilitating a dialogue between students of the Bayview Opera House in San Francisco and South Africa. Visit http://www.hatchfund.org/project/the_nelson_mandela_international_quilt 

We close with a conversation with Ms. Faye Carol who is recipient of the Jazz Hero Award from the Jazz Journalists Association. James Knox, nationally recognized jazz journalist and photographer joins her to talk about the award and the ceremony April 12, 2014, 1-3 p.m. at Yoshis in Oakland, California.

Music: boukman eksperyans's "Gran Bwaile" (A Vodou Spirit) and "Mandingue Drumming". We close with Ms. Faye Carol's "Strange Fruit," "A Pyramids Mix" and a reprise of "Gran Bwaile" (A Vodou Spirit).

Oakland International Film Festival Opens with film about Haitian General Toussaint L'Overture

Director Philippe Diang'
Director Philippe Diang's Toussaint Louverture
The 3 Generals
When I ran into Danny Glover leaving the repast at Immamu Amiri Baraka's funeral in Newark this January, I asked him as he raced up the stairs about his film Toussaint Louverture and until this moment thought  French-Senegalese director Philippe Niang's film was that film. It is not. I wonder what Glover thinks of it?  His production company is Louverture Films--kind of fitting that there be a film, right? I read on Shadow and Act: On Cinema of the African Diaspora, that in 2006 Glover received "$18 million from one of Glover's heroes, the [late] Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez." He assembled an all-star cast yet once again was foiled. The film has been percolating for 30 years. For the full story read: http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/danny-glovers-toussaint-louverture-film-that-never-was-but-could-still-be

Although this was not the highly anticipated and long awaited treatment, I was happy to see a work on the celebrated General L'Overture opening night at the 12th Annual Oakland International Film Festival, Thursday, April 3, 2014 at the Grand Lake Theatre. The film is courtesy of the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles which has screened Diang's film two years consecutively according to Mr. David Roach, director of OIFF whom I spoke to this morning: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks/2014/04/04/wandas-picks-radio-show-jazz-heroes-awardee-ms-faye-carol

The house was full for this wonderful epic film about the first successful enslaved African uprising. Focusing on Toussaint L'Overture's shrewd mind, excellent military strategy and his ability to be both inclusive and fair, the film also looked at his family--he and his little sister and their early trauma indicative of the peculiar institution, slavery--loss of parents, rape and the institutionalized or normalized brutality the brother and sister survived yet never quite got over. For more on the director see: http://www.africanfilmny.org/2013/philippe-niang/

Director Philippe Diang's Toussaint Louverture, who was born into slavery, became a General in the French army and even defied Napoleon's power by making his homeland, Haiti, the first independent Black State in the world, an abolitionist State. In three hours, the director, draws a breathtaking historical epic which perfectly translates the complex personally of the hero of Haitian independence and of the liberation of Black peoples (OIFF Program notes).  
Director Philippe Diang

General L'Overture's handling of the white generals, first the French, then the Spanish and then the French again--and the grudging respect he earned is certainly a highlight of the film and reminded me of our own President Barack Hussain Obama and his handling of the white power structure and the painful compromises one might miss unless she were not paying close attention to the story as it unfolds.

Philippe Diang's Toussaint Louverture:
The family
In the film, Toussaint is surrounded by enemies. He is often questioned by blacks about his allegiance and why he doesn't just kill all the whites. Kidnapped and imprisoned in a dank damp cell in the cold snow covered mountains in France--we watch the general's, still regal in bearing, health deteriorate as the jailers tried to find out where a reported chest filled with gold is buried. Reminiscent of the 1001 Nights--Toussaint tells his story to a young scribe employed to break the general's spirit.

In charge, even when stripped of his uniform and given mite infested garments to wear, deprived of food, firewood and then his sole companion--his former personal secretary, Louverture's spirit reigns.

Toussaint L'Overture with The Ancestors
Diang's film shows men of honor, none more stellar, though not perfect, than Toussaint L'Overture. I see why artist Jacob Lawrence painted series after series depicting L'Overture's legacy.

I loved the interaction between the three generals: Toussaint, Dessalines and Christophe--they were all very different--Toussaint the diplomat. He appealed to what he thought were the human sentiments of the French and then the Spanish for freedom and human rights for the enslaved Africans, but the colonizers were only interested in profiting from the free labor and fruits of this tropical paradise, Santo Domingue.

JACOB LAWRENCE (1917–2000)
The Life of Toussaint L'Ouverture
JACOB LAWRENCE (1917–2000) Toussaint Series
Toussaint was underestimated over and over again by white men, who could not believe he could out think them, even after he did again and again. In a great scene, one general is sitting on the hill speaking to another about how incompetent Africans are at military strategy as their men are killed in an ambush by Toussaint's soldiers.

This general is not rash and proved a great foil for Jean Jacques Dessalines who had a short fuse which needed only a spark to engulf the guilty in flames.

Jimmy Jean-Louis as Toussaint Louverture

Ilove in the early part of the film how Toussaint was awakened to his circumstances when he learned to read and why he cared about the white man who bought he and his sister. He grew up favored and close to those who owned him. When we meet him he is a well-adjusted slave, happy with his lot since he knows nothing else.It is his owner's Jesuit brother who suggests to his brother that he free his enslaved Africans, to which his brother scoffs.
Jimmy Jean-Louis as title character


In this retelling of the story, we get a glimpse into L'Overure's life, especially that between he and his beloved wife, Suzanne. He falls madly in love with this beautiful free black women who has a son by a white man; he feels she is worth his pursuit and together they represent love's endurance in barren space. He loved his children too and his people. The film is full of Toussaint wittisms--like one he tells his master's sister--I am a black man before I am French.

Funny how the propaganda machine is in operation then as it is now and when Toussaint is questioned by the scribe about the rumors of his infidelity and multiple children out of wedlock he speaks to this maligning of his name as false.

I hadn't known Toussaint was a healer, and that he initially joined the resistance movement as a medic who utilized herbs to heal the wounded African soldiers in their military camp. The film is full of stories of double-crossings and mended and severed alliances across racial lines. At one point the blacks were against the whites, the whites against the blacks and the creoles against the blacks too. Toussaint set out to mend his community, which included the colonizers.He is highly criticized when he brings the colonizers back to run the industries, Africans (he feels) lack the operational knowledge of. This Toussaint owns slaves too, which he "treats well," he says to critics.

Toussaint stood at his community's moral center, yet he was a man of his times. In the film, the character does not always like the decisions he feels compelled to make, but knowing that sometimes he had to punish wrongdoing committed by people he loved. He was ruler and Napoleon did not like this and set out to put this Negro in his place. Toussaint told one of his men that he wasn't taking orders from anyone.

I am not a scholar of the period or this man's history, so without a chance to speak to the director, I cannot say what was artistic license, and what is factual outside the historic moments already mentioned which are easily verified. See http://library.brown.edu/haitihistory/5.html

Did Toussaint's two sons study in France on a generous scholarship? And when an officer arrives in Saint-Dominque without an army to bring order, an order resisted by the deposed colonists, he is married to a black woman, light complexioned, but black nonetheless; is this another instance of poetic license?

I kept thinking I was seeing a reversal of the colorblind casting (smile) when the attaché speaks to what is before my eyes. He asks his black wife, who seems to be in a perpetual state of displeasure, why she married him. She responds to get out of France and he brings her to this "godforsaken tropical island at war."

The acting is superb, as is the cinematography -- the beautiful range of blackness on screen--midnight black to ebony, to vanilla chocolate. With the already mentioned Jimmy Jean-Louis as the title character, Toussaint L'Overture, Aïssa Maïga (Paris, Je T'Aime, Bamako) as Toussaint's wife, Suzanne, and Sonia Rolland (Moloch Tropical, Midnight In Paris) as Marie-Eugénie Sonthonax, wife of abolitionist L.F. Sonthonax the cast and director are representative of Pan African culture.

It is a perfect Oakland International Film Festival choice.

The historic reenactments of pivotal moments in Haitian history like the meeting with Boukman and Mame Fatiman at the Bois Caïman ceremony on the mountain show Toussaint as an observer--Catholic, he also believed in African gods and their power to protect. Papa Legba was his guardian and the film hinges on this element and the what one considers a "treasure."  Money or gold was not what Toussaint coveted, if anything it was his passion for liberty for his people.

The film is not a documentary, yet, the work is certainly thought-provoking and in the tradition of other slave or formerly enslaved African narratives such as Sojourner Truth's and Prophet Nat Turner's. In both examples the vehicle is transformed in the process of dictation or receipt of such a trust, such a truth.

L'Overture says he is also called to the work by God, and like Nat Turner, in Diang's film, this document was also his last testament.

For more information about the Oakland International Film Festival this weekend, April 3-7, 2014, visit www.filmoakland.com or call (510) 238-4734.













Friday, March 28, 2014

Theatre Works’s Once on This Island, a review, by Wanda Sabir

(l-r) Mama Euralie (Dawn L. Troupe), Little Ti Moune
(Khalia Davis), and Tonton Julian (Berwick Haynes)
Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka
Rosa Guy and Maya Angelou

Theatre Works’s production of Once on this Island is a beautifully choreographed story about love and loss, faith and selflessness. A musical based on the Caribbean writer and black arts movement pioneer, Rosa Guy’s adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s “Little Mermaid” set in a mysterious tropical island; however, when Napoleon appears defeated, we know it is Ayiti. In Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty musical stage adaptation, the story rather than ending on a “loves sweet sorrow” note, Once looks toward the future. It is what Bob Marley calls a Redemption psalm, a poetic journey into the heart of Pan African America where the gods or orisha live with the people and have that much more magnified and electric presence. We meet Erzulie–the goddess of the orphan (in the play also love), Papa Ge the keeper of death, Asaka, mother of earth, Agwe, the god of water—there is also a gatekeeper, Papa Legba at the crossroads. .

Agwe, God of Water (Omari Tau) calls down a rain storm
in TheatreWorks' musical ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, playing
March 5-30, 2014 at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto
Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka




Clockwise, from bottom right: Ti Moune (Salisha Thomas), Agwe, God of Water (Omari Tau), Papa Ge, Keeper of the Dead (Max Kumangai), Asaka, Mother of the Earth (Safiya Fredericks), and Erzulie, Goddess of Love (Adrienne Muller). Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka
Little Ti Moune is found in a tree, washed ashore in a storm on the ever tempestuous island where the people who live there are connected to their African roots. Mama Euralie and Tonton Julian take her in and raise her as their own.  An older Ti Moune prays to these gods for love and of course the deal comes with small print which Ezulie and Papa Ge make sure she reads. Reminiscent of the storm that landed Ti Moune on the island so long ago, the prince speeds along the slippery road and hits a tree and would have died had not Ti Moune cared for him.

The cosmic and social dance between the two impress even the black gods or orisha especially the more cynical Papa Ge and Ti Moune’s guardian Erzulie. The peasant girl’s adoration and devotion to the prince who, though he likes her well enough, he is not about to disobey his dad the king. This is the crux of the story which looks at themes like slavery and its aftermath, classism based on pigment and the infectious nature of European values left in places like Haiti where what Once hints at is reflected in its history to date. It is a pre-cholera epidemic that subsequent generations have a hard time resisting.

There is a free program next week: Engaged Faith: An Update from Haitian Fr. Didi Horace with translation by Pierre Labossiere, Friday, April 4, 2014, at 7 p.m. at the Newman Hall/ Holy Spirit Parish at 2700 Dwight Way in Berkeley. For information call 510-482-1062


As Superior of Voluntas Dei, Haiti, Fr. Didi Horace oversees its seven missions in largely rural areas of Haiti with one in Port au Prince. Each mission includes a school which also provides for the nutritional and healthcare needs of its students, some of whom walk four miles daily to attend. His ministry brings him in daily contact with both the issues of everyday life confronting rural and urban life and church-based initiatives to address them.

Papa Ge, Keeper of Death (Max Kumangai) visits
Ti Moune (Salisha Thomas). Photo credit: Tracy Martin
Once leaves us with a promise. This promise is evident in the resistance one sees in former President Aristide’s return to Ayiti and his work rebuilding institutions he established while in office twice like the medical school as well as others on the ground there as well.  This promise is seen in Fr. Didi Horace’s work with the poor like the fictional Ti Moune’s loving family Mama Euralie (Dawn L. Troupe) and Tonton Julian (Berwick Haynes). They nor the villagers have much but what they have they are willing to share with the little girl.

Ms. Rosa Cuthbert Guy (1925-2012) says of her work at an interview in 1990 with Bayan at the “Second Annual Conference of Caribbean Women Writers, April 27, 1990, Trinidad and Tobago”:

I'm very concerned about people. I'm concerned about Trinidadians and Haitians and Americans and the things that have happened to us since slavery and what has helped to form us all since slavery, even though we, some of us we, believe, we think that it hasn't mattered in our life and every generation has to find its own truth but then you, you come to the feeling, or the idea that, what is truth. Truth is not encompassing one person alone. Your mother's truth becomes a part of yours, so generational truths you know, have a way of sifting down because any how it forms you, and so you have to deal with some of these issues that form you in order to clear your mind, even you know of, of pressures that you don't know are there” (http://www.pancaribbean.com/banyan/rosaguy.htm).  

The idea of story, telling one’s story is repeated throughout Once on This Island, yet the only stories . . . my friend at the performance commented we tell are the stories of defeat and pain as if these are the only stories we occupy or occupy us. Pan African history did not start when we got off of the shipping vessels which gave us a free one way trip out into the vast unknown. Guy’s work and its staged incarnation hints at more than this, even if the frame of the piece is chipped and frayed. That there are gods on stage with human beings participating in their daily lives—that the birds speak to Ti Moune, that the rocks offer her shelter, the inanimate changes form so she can see, speaks to the transformative and participatory nature of story—so why aren’t we telling more stories to our children?


The future lies in a shifting of the narrative to one of joy and optimism and success, rather than more tales of woe where we continue as a people to come out losers. No matter how happy the dance or festive the song, if the theme is hopelessness or despair we are doomed.
Life and death are twins, so close to each other yet a life time apart. The dance between actress Adrienne Muller’s Ezulie, Goddess of Love and actor Max Kumangai’s Papa Ge, Keeper of Death—(my translation, as he is not a “demon”), are a tangible delight.  

The production is choreographed by Gerry McIntyre who originated Papa Ge in the workshop (late ‘80s), turned it down for the award winning Broadway run (1990-1995) to then returned to the show as “Armand” in the off-Broadway production and got to perform “Papa Ge” on tour. “In 2009, Once on This Island inspired a documentary, ‘After the Storm,’ about a group of Broadway artists, including [TW’s choreographer McIntyre], who travel to New Orleans and stage a production of Once on This Island with local teens” (TheatreWorks Encore Arts Programs 12).

The historic connections between Ti Moune and Daniel and the politics of Katrina and New Orleans, Louisiana (a former French colony) are uncanny and consistent thematically. The young cast, according to reviewer Syche Phillips, leaves their audience with a “sense of optimism. When faced with defeat, there can still be hope. If we know where to look we can, eventually find joy. It’s the dance of life” (TheatreWorks Encore Arts Programs 12).
I am not certain if this is the lesson I want black children to constantly have to learn “defeat. . . then optimistic return from below.” It is almost as if the dirge is celebrated when in fact it is cause for mourning. Black people should be able to celebrate triumph—the stories we tell should not be ones of sorrow or in this case what happens to a community when love is framed by racial politics. Ti Moune (the elder girl portrayed by actress Salisha Thomas) and her prince, Armand (Rotimi Agbabiaka) have the same lineage—African. His lineage is contaminated by French rape of a black women, and this is celebrated?!

Salisha Thomas as the older Ti Moune looks just as mixed blood as her Daniel (actor Paris Nix), while actress Khalia Davis as the younger Ti Moune is darker. I wondered when Thomas appeared why the company didn’t cast an actress who more closely resembled the younger character, even though Thomas was superb in the role.

It is to the heir to the throne’s credit that Ti Moune sees beyond the arrogance of class and the false structure of colonialism post colonial power. She is Africa—her face, her body her dance her lips her song and Daniel, for a brief moment, drinks from the well and is filled. After the music ends and one thinks about Ti Moune and her sacrifice . . . Once is not necessarily—the way Rosa Guy wrote her My Love, My Love, cause for celebration.
Nonetheless, fairy tales have their uses and this production of Once on This Island is fantastic and fantastical with a marvelous cast performing to a live band--the wonderful show tunes instructive as they are toe tapping. Once is up at TheatreWork’s Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto through March 30, 2014. Visit www.theatreworks.org of call (650) 463-1960.

Wanda's Picks Radio Show, Friday, March 28, 2014 featuring Cultural Odyssey Founder, Idris Ackamoor

We celebrate with Founder and Artistic Director of Cultural Odyssey 35th Year Celebration Apr. 3-5, 2014, Idris Ackamoor & Rhodessa Jones.

Mr. Ackamoor is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, tap dancer, actor, director and producer. He is the founder and Executive/Co-Artistic Director of Cultural Odyssey. Idris curates and produces the Cultural Odyssey Performance Festival, and also records and tours with his acclaimed jazz ensemble. Visit http://www.culturalodyssey.org/

Ms. Jones is an actress, dancer, singer, writer, and teacher, Ms. Jones is Co-artistic Director of Cultural Odyssey and Founder/Director of the Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women. Rhodessa tours her performances and speaks to "Theater for the 21st Century: art which precipitates community transformation.

Lyrika Holmes joins us as featured artist at the 35th Anniversary gala. Ms. Holmes is an
International performing artist "Lyrika Holmes" is an African-American recording artist, singer, harpist, songwriter and teacher. Lyrika was born and raised by her parents in St. Louis, MO. Lyrika started playing the piano at the age of 5. In junior high her parents encouraged her to step out of the box, and play something different, this is when she made the switch to harp. Since that day, Lyrika has been showing us just how hot the harp can be.

We close with Joanna Haigood, Artistic Director and co-founder of Zaccho Performance Dance Company about Dying While Black and Brown, a performance and panel discussion Friday-Saturday, April 4-5, 2014. Friday evening at 8 (the panel follows) and Saturday at 2 p.m.(performance) at Zaccho Studios, 1777 Yosemite Ave #330, in San Francisco's Bayview Hunter's Point. Visit www.zaccho.org


We are also joined by dancers Antoine Hunter and Travis Santell Rowland.


First commissioned by the San Francisco Equal Justice Society, Dying While Black and Brown focuses on capital punishment and the disproportionate numbers of incarcerated people of color. The piece was created by ZACCHO’s Artistic Director, Joanna Haigood in collaboration with renowned jazz composer, Marcus Shelby. It was created in response to the Equal Justice Society’s campaign to restore 14th Amendment protections for victims of discrimination including those on death row.
"The piece Dying While Black & Brown impacted me in a very profound way, because it took me back to a place emotionally that allowed me to reconnect with the tragedy of the past 18 years of my life, and then it also reminded me of the triumph of winning back my freedom." -Anthony Graves, Texas Defender, Former Death Row Inmate

Bios:

Travis Santell Rowland is an American interdisciplinary performing artist who holds BA degrees in both Drama (Popular Theatre) and Dance (Performance & Choreography) from San Francisco State University where he served as Student Artistic Director for the University Dance Theater in 2005/6, and was honored by the School of Music & Dance with the award of Outstanding Student in Performance.

His solo performance and choreography of Residual Sugar (2006) was featured in the American College Dance Festival Association's (ACDFA) Southwest Regional Conference Gala Awards Concert in January 2007. He began training in hip hop dance, went on to study modern and contemporary forms, and is currently hired for projects under TrAvIsMoVeS. The breadth of his performance experience spans the mediums of hip hop/contemporary/modern dance, physical/dance/children’s theatre, drag (as Qween), film, opera, and site-specific art.

His active athletic background includes competitive gymnastics, wrestling, football, track, baseball, swimming, volleyball, and kickboxing. He has performed for Paco Gomes & Dancers, Della Davidson’s Sideshow Physical Theatre, Emily Keeler, Printz Dance Project, TalisMANIC Physical Theatre, Aura Fischbeck Dance, Natalie Greene, Fauxnique/Monique Jenkinson, the Tim Carr Project, Kendra Kimbrough Dance Ensemble, Cathleen McCarthy & Dancers, Deborah Slater Dance Theater, Kevin Clarke/Falsetta Knockers, Raissa Simpson’s Push Dance Company, requisitedance, Jetta Martin, Funsch Dance Experience, Amie Dowling, trixxie carr, Crowded Fire Theater, Urban Opera, and in Taylor Mac’s The Lily’s Revenge at Magic Theatre. Presently, he enjoys performing as a creative collaborator with the Erika Chong Shuch Performance Project, the House of Glitter, Erling Wold's Fabrications, California Shakespeare Theater, Joanna Haigood’s Zaccho Dance Theatre, and Peter Griggs’ Burning Monk Collective.




Antoine Hunter is an African American Deaf and Hard of Hearing Choreographer, Dancer, Dance instructor, model, actor and poet. Hunter was born deaf and was raised Oakland, California and began dancing with Dawn James at Skyline High School.

He has studied West African Dance with Master C.K. and Betty Ladzekpo, and studied at the Paul Taylor Summer Intensives in 2003 and 2004 as full scholarship.

He is a lover to dance. You may had seen him in commercial or music video. Had performed and taught all over USA and all over the world such as, Rome, London, Cuba, Africa and so on.

He also has performed with Savage Jazz Dance Company, as dance artist/performer/jazz instructor; he has also performed with Nuba Dance Theater, Sins Invalid, Sonic Dance Theater of Epiphany Productions, Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, Alayo Dance Company, Cat Willis, Push Dance Company and Robert Moses’ Kin Dance Company, Sign Dance Collective AKA. Signdance Theatre International, Dance Captain for an Expedia.com commercial, choreographer for Amerikana The Musical, and many more.

Mr. Hunter has attended the California Institute of the Arts and is studying toward a B.A at St. Mary’s College of California L.E.A.P. He later becomes Founder/Director of Urban Jazz Dance Company 2007. A faculty member at East Bay Center of the Performing Arts, Dance-A-Vision, Youth In Arts, Shawl and Anderson Dance Center, Ross Dance Company, just to name a few.

During Mr. Hunter many years of performing and Choreographing for other company from many part of the world, he later realized his passion, goals, calling and said “My Goals I believe that all people are born with an element of creativity.

Therefore, I believe that arts itself, whose foundation is creative, is as an essential element of self-discovery. It is my goal to help people realize their creative self through dance. Another goals are to: