Saturday, September 23, 2006

Classically Savion @ Cal Performances Friday night

There was as usual too much to do Friday night in the San Francisco Bay Area but I chose to go check out Classical Savion, the tap wiz who took European classic music back to its roots. I was supposed to see a play... sorry Kim for reneging without RSVPing. I didn't have your number on me. The house was full, subscription base the folks who were looking for Fred Astair and found Kunta Kente. Brother Glover was freestyling on the drums, his feet a percussion ensemble which meshed so well with the string orchestra, the relationship between musicians and dancer in the moment.

Though rehearsed, the pieces felt improvasional/new as Glover twirled around on his toes, kept a steady beat without seeming to move, then when he did, it felt like a train was pulling into a station.

This really talkative white man, a friend of Glover's he said, was next to me. He called himself filling the black girl in on black culture. Drunk, I wasn't certain what level of unconsciousness was operating there. I had to tell him to be quiet. He was distracting and rude, but not as visibly rude as all the people who started to leave as Glover shifted into his last piece Stars and Stripes Forever 4 Now.

Glover was scatting, singing as well as tapping on this obviously inspired number; however, Laura Elaine Ellis, choreographer, dancer, whom I saw afterwards, said she would have liked it if Glover had stopped just for a moment and made choreo-statement on the war in Iraq, Lebanon, the Gulf Region, New Orleans -- anything, then resumed the show.

But I think his entire show was a statement.

I heard Africa in his feet traveling to Western Europe and claiming a heritage which is not limited to one specific geographic region. Dredlocked hair looped into a bun at his neck, smile on his face, Glover stumped, skated, bobbed his head, the smile on his face reminding me of the late Billy Higgins seated behind traps, playing his way to heaven.

The ten member string ensemble performed easy listening favorites --not that they were easy, like Vivaldi's Four Seasons; Dvorak's American Quartet, Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, Bartok's Rumanian Folk Dances, Sz. 68, BB 76, Shoskovich's String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110, and Mendelssohn's Octet for Strings in E-Flat major, Op. 20.

It was cool watching the dancer interpret these melodies rhythmically -- I'll never hear a classical concert quite the same ever again after this.

Sister Maxine Roach, viola, told a few of us after that the orchestra had been assembled for this tour. Yet, they played marvelously, like they'd been together for years. Similar to a jam session, Glover was literally flying across the stage at times. The amplified platform recreated what it might have sounded like if Glover were dancing on a drum: snare, bass and tom, and the occasional crash of the cymbal, all heard in his feet.

With perspiration leaking through his shirt(s) to the point on the third and final pause it took him longer to return than the first and second go-round. He might have had to take a quick shower.

While he was changing, the bass player (a part of the classical and jazz set) began playing a song that Savion came out dancing to. The choreographer then introduced the orchestra and they all played a solo.

Besides the sister on viola whose Motherless Child...was, well you should be happy they're going to Montalvo, just down the road at UC Davis, were some cool violinists -- men and women...reminded me of Oakland East Bay Symphony, the orchestra could stretch and flex their creative muscles. In great shape, they all demonstrated their creative dexturity: cellists, viola players and bassist and of course violinists.

Glover created an accompanying dance to respond to their riffs on classical songs and music created in the moment. They were jamming!

Between the solos he brought on his pianist, who was cool. The pianist intro a greeting to an old friend -- you could tell The Otherz member knew the dancer well, as another member of the jazz ensemble, the fluist/soprano saxophonist came back, then drummer, Jared Chocolatt, was introduced. Jared was last seen at Contra Costa College Theatre in Hit It!(See

Later on, this sister was raving over the band like she's been to church, or seen the Lord, or maybe both. Her response was something the evening lacked...I'd have to agree with my drunk companion there who got up before the final song and left...disgusted.

The audience wasn't getting it. Too bad the balcony couldn't have filled in all the empty seats where I was. I think the folks who felt the groove, recognized the themes...when Savion brought in riffs from a variety of genres, like hip hop, jazz and blues...were all in the cheap seats.

He needed to be at the Ashby Flea Market, at the Malonga Center, at the African American Culture Complex, at Ashkenaz. He needed an audience with educated ears, not drunk white men who thought they knew best, or the older predominately white audience who didn't get it and didn't want to either.

Calling Savion Glover a protégée of Fred Astair is an insult.

If Glover had gotten the kind of audience reponse our brothers in the circle get when they trade codes and whisper secret messages, maybe he'd have sang a little longer, made that statement Laura Elaine wanted to hear...but well the folks were a bit too sedate or absent and when he jumped off the stage, bowed and waved...that's it. That was it.

The orchestra is headed to Davis for Sept. 28, 7:30 p.m.,Garden Theatre, Montalvo, then to UCLA, UC San Diego... Davis is the closest, so get your tickets now. For the Davis gig tickets are $35/40/45/55/65.

Visit There's a link to Glover's official website there.

Cal Shakes

As You Like It @ California Shakes through Oct. 15
Attending a production at Cal Shakes is like going to an old friend's home. Each season I'm always pleasantly surprised to see what company member is cast in what role, and what new additions there are to the Cal Shakes performance family. I knew L. Peter Callender was in this production, he told me he would be when I interviewed him while he was in the highly successful production at the Aurora Theatre of Permanent Collection, but I didn't know he'd be both dukes, a quite funny, juxtaposition he pulled off very well.

In fact, this, my first trip to Bruns Memorial Theatre this season, was a delightful evening spent caught up in the revery of banished royals, star-crossed lovers and happy endings. I hadn't realized until I sat down to reflect on the characters and their lives how close this play is to The Tempest, where Prospero, a duke is banished by his brother, his daughter, Miranda, in love with her cousin, the other duke's son. The end of both plays a happy reconciliation.

Is nobility a state of mind or something one inherits? In the same way, is gender just as fluid, does what one believes makes it so?

Orlando's wooing of a man he pretends is Rosalind, then falling in love with said Rosalind is just as perplexing to him as it is to everyone else. Does he know in his heart, the man, is really his woman?

Then there are the various subplots Shakespeare is great at, to further complicate the already complicated lives. But this just proves how much our lives are enriched, one hopes by those we allow inside.

There are many surprises in director Jonathan Moscone's adaptation like the live orchestration and the original score. The set is marvelous, apples covering the stage in the first act, Orlando and his servant picking them up from the orchard floor. Another great touch are the Orlando's love letters on all the trees in the second act. (He even throws a few into the audience which we of course stop looking at the play to read. The letters state they are simply a prop and to keep watching the action on stage.)

It's great seeing a professional production which does justice to a script, especially one which I already knew and enjoyed. Thursday evening was a visit to familiar territory, territory I knew but not the way Cal Shakes interpreted it.

The last time I saw As You Like It, African American Shakes performed it at Yerba Buena Gardens. It was set in the antebellum south and the dukes were brothers, one white the other of African decent. The younger, Orlando, shunned by his brother not just from greed, but also race. It was a really fascinating premise that worked well.

It was a really fascinating premise that worked well, as well as The Taming of the Shrew works. Set in the ‘60s Black Power Movement, Kate is a woman of the day: independent, self-assured and headstrong. When watching the excerpt performed last month I recalled her lines as her suitor egged on by a wager sought to tame her, and recoiled at its blantant disregard to what one considers "PC" or politically correct now.

Why did Kate have to change?

Why would anyone want a broken women?

What was Shakespeare saying with this play? It reminded me of horse breakers, and slave breakers…men skilled at stealing souls.

African American Shakes' The Taming of the Shrew, continues Friday-Sunday, Sept. 22-Oct. 22 at the African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton Street, San Francisco,(415)762-2071. Visit (Sunday, Sept. 24 at 4 p.m. they will be at the Woodminster Ampitheater in Oakland (off Skyline Blvd.) for a special East Bay performance.)

As You Like It is Tuesday-Sundays, through October 15 at the Bruns Ampitheater: 100 Gateway Blvd., Orinda. There is a shuttle from the Orinda BART Station. Call the box office for tickets and times (510) 548-9666. Visit

San Francisco Shakespeare in the Park's The Tempest continues through September 24 at the Presidio in San Francisco. Visit or call (415)558-0888.

photo: Actor Daveed Diggs as Ferdinand at San Francisco Shakes post-show at Lake Merritt, Oakland

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Hard Evidence of Existence

Directed and conceived by Cedric Brown, The Hard Evidence of Existence: A Black Gay Sex (& Love) Show was a poignantly beautiful exploration of black gay love, and what it means to be a black man who loves black men.

One character in the first vignette written by Stewart Shaw, called his lovemaking revolutionary, hair electrified, locs standing at attention from the shear passion of it all -- his love for his man.

What an image, right? There were others: Men kissing men, men talking about kissing men. It was something I hadn't seen much of, and I enjoyed seeing black men showing affection to other black men because in main stream media, black men are not shown in this light -- loving, not brutalizing, each other.

Perhaps more images like this need to get out? It might start a trend.

The series of short stories or scenes excerpted from work by Zakee McGill, Ramekon O'Arwisters, and Stewart Shaw, moved between a son's recollection of his father's acceptance of his identity at a time when hostility would have not only been understood, it would have been expected. I was reminded of a book I picked up the other day: Becoming Dad by Leonard Pitts Jr.

Pitts writes: "My father had wanted his firstborn child, his son and namesake, to be brawney, strong, and athletic. I was skinny, shy and smart. ...I was a nerd. (I) wasn't the kid my father wanted, (the son) a farmer's son with seven years of education could easily relate to."

It was hell for little Leonard, until four years later, Keith came along and his father devoted his attentions to him. What's ironic is, Keith ended up being gay.

The Hard Evidence of Existence had more to do with just navigating the terrain of black on black love, never mind the external intrusions which one couple
encounter in Cuba.

Hard Evidence reminded me of Harlequin and Regency romance stories only recast with black men in starring roles. There was no violence but infidelity, good sex and even no sex. There was humor, yet consistent in all five tales was the great writing, and sensitive depiction of the roles by a talented cast: Marlon Bailey, Robert Hampton, and DaMon Vann.

I spoke to Cedric beforehand about the show closing night of the three day run at Thick House, and he said he was tired of the brawny objectified images of black men and their dicks (he didn't say this, but in the show someone else does.)

In fact, the opening montage shows author Elan Harris' Invisible Life, his first runaway best seller, the story of a brother uncomfortable with his sexuality...all of Harris' books ones where the protagonist is not happy with his life without a man, and most often with a man either.

Cedric wanted to show the average brother who is not ashamed of who he is, nor is his a caricature of the media hype: brothers on the DL, the black downlow phenomena given scathing critique, unlike that of the urban cowboys in Brokeback Mountain where the two men were seen as tragic heroes.

Essex Hemphill and Marlon Riggs two creative men who were proud of their sexuality, appear in clips in the play, their words and images sidebars in the multimedia projections which serve as interludes between frames, scenes, moments or periods between ellipses.

The work opens with a quote from Hemphill about love and sex, and closes with the same, the actors in shorts dancing in muted light...bodies barely audible, the gesture a stroke of awareness on cerebral canvases.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Charlayne Hunter-Gault

Tuesday evening I was able to see one of my favorite journalists, the first African American journalist whose career I began to follow once I saw her on the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour where in 1985 she received broadcast journalist's highest honor: a George Foster Peabody Award, for her five-part series, "Apartheid's People."

On tour with a new book, New News Out of Africa: Uncovering Africa's Renaissance, Hunter-Gault spoke before a full to standing room only audience at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. The South African Consul General Los Angeles, Jeanette T. Ndhlovu, was present, as well as Donna Katzin, Executive Director, Shared Interest, an organization which gives micro-loans to South African women entrepreneurs. Visit and

After the African nation gained its independence and apartheid rule was no more, the journalist relocated to South Africa to cover the country from the inside for National Public Radio. Until recently she was Johannesburg Bureau Chief for CNN, now she will be working freelance on other stories which have interested her for a long time.

Hunter-Gault read from her book, introduced the reading with comments about her writing life and then entertained questions from the evening host, Belva Davis, KQED anchor for This Week in Northern California, and board president for MoAD.

She stated that the future of Africa was in the face of the young woman on the cover of her book. Any African Renaissance has to include the strong, vibrant women of this vast land, and though the west is not necessarily covering Africa outside the death, disease, and destruction scenario, Hunter-Gault says there is much to celebrate such as the recent first free and democratic election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In New News she writes about feeling as W.E.B. Dubois described it, "' ...a two-ness-- an American, and a Negro, two souls, two thoughts, two unrecognized strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.'"

She states that though the Dubois reference was to Africans on American soil, she "found herself thinking about this description as she was challenged to reconcile her spiritual, cultural, and historical connections to Africa not only with the detachment her profession requires but also with the way she was perceived in Africa: as a foreigner, as an American, and sometimes even as white!"

New News references this dichotomy Hunter-Gault faced when returning to America yearly and friends and family would ask for "the news." The book -- part memoir, part commentary, is also a chronicle of her journey as an American woman of African descent in a country, South Africa, and in a land, Africa, which is bursting with such great news, yet receives such little western media coverage.

She spoke Tuesday evening about the many great African journalists in Africa and the work they are doing, often at risk to themselves and to their families, to get the story out to the world about what's happening in their countries. ( is a great source for news on Africa by Africans.)

South Africa is one of the only countries in Africa where there is freedom of the press, which means no one can be arrested for what they print, say or write. I found the journalist's comments balanced especially when speaking about the much vilified president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, and even her comments in response to questions on the president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and the place of China in African development were just and fair.

It had been a while since I'd met her at a screening of the film, based on the book, "Once Upon A Time When We Were Colored." It was my first time on Florida -- Zora Neale Hurston country, yet all I can remember of the conference besides my workshop on the AIDS Volunteer Clearinghouse, is her introduction of the film.

It was a festive evening, the journalist greeting friends like Jacques Depelchin, OTA BENGA Alliance for Peace, Healing and Dignity, DR-Congo, and others. I arrived home just in time to catch the rebroadcast of an earlier interview with the author on Forum with Michael Krasny, KQED radio, 88.5 FM. Visit to listen.

photos: The author, Charlayne Hunter-Gault; author with Sister Belva Davis at MoAD; Melvin Terry and Wanda Sabir; Liz Parks (former wife of Gordon Parks) with Margaret Jackson (MoAD); Donna Katzin, Jeanette T. Ndhlovu, and Effie Lee Morris; Wanda Sabir and the author at autograph table.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Color Struck, A Review

Donald E. Lacy, Jr. in Color Struck @ Laney College, 900 Fallon Street,Oakland, Wednesday-Sunday, Sept. 7-10, 8 p.m.
Donald Lacy took keeping it real to an entirely different level in this reflective, coming of age in the Black community stroll through Oakland along East 14th (now International Blvd.).

I'd seen the work-in-progress at Intersection for the Arts' Hybrid series, and was impressed with the characters Lacy sprinkled through the story of his struggle to be black but always feeling not black enough, because his skin was light.

In this more fully adapted work, Lacy's character still feels outside the circle yet this isolation is one the playwright poses all Americans of African descent feel just because we're not white. His skin an object of envy like his straight hair which was shaved off in the show because he couldn't understand how such superficial aspects of a person could be used as a ticket to credibility.

Directed by Michael Torres, Color Struck takes the audience from the '60s and '70s when black power was the rage and nappy hair good, it reframed in a positive light. The former good hair was now a sign of diluted ancestry. Lacy sported a huge 'Fro which gave way to the Jeri Curl, the actor swinging his head as greasy oil coated the lone woman on the front row.

In 90 minutes Lacy rapped, sang, danced his way through centuries of Black history, history many of the children in the audience didn't know. Their comments after the show to Lacy were ones of appreciation and amazement.

Lacy's Oakland was one many youngsters weren't aware of. It sounded like a great place to raise a family, Lacy's family the norm with a mom and dad, not the exception. One could see Lacy's African American Studies Degree from San Francisco State at work here as he wove the historic information into his monologue almost seamlessly, Jim Cave's multimedia and lighting design cleverly illustrating his points.

No one escaped the actor's scathing tongue, his friendly ridicule a place where everyone in the audience could laugh and share in the racial stereotypes no one is immune to, the biggest scapegoat still Africans -- their treatment evidence of the unrelenting animosity between this nation and its former enslaved people.

Lacy took his audience back to Africa, a place again many children hadn't known existed, a place where Africans were sailing to America centuries before Colombus, the Olmec heads proof of this along with the pyramids throughout Latin America. Black people were everywhere.

The closing portion of the uninterrupted show was the riveting images of black people, men and a woman "hanging from poplar trees" just after Lacy recited a poem about the death of black men to a myriad of ills some self-inflicted. The tone which had moved between mostly funny to somber stayed there as the screen behind Lacy showed depictions of dead bodies swinging from ropes thrown over trees and bridges. Other photos on postcards with writing showed black men's roasted and mutilated bodies.

I don't remember seeing so many lynched African people in one sitting before. The room grew silent as Billy Holiday sang Strange Fruit, Lacy in supplication.

The slides just went on and on, each one a little harder to watch than those previous. I couldn't imagine anyone watching such injustices, yet not only were there numerous white people depicted watching these scenes, most of the adults and children were smiling.

The question Lacy asked repeatedly: Why do they hate us so much? was never answered definitively. If ever there were a salient argument presented for reparations to African American descendents of enslaved Africans, Donald Lacy's Color Stuck is one.

(Note: On Sept. 30, 4-7 p.m., Dr. Mustafa Ansari, Chief Justice Indigenous African American Reparations Tribunal, explains the human restorative process for Africans in America under U.N. Resolution 1647. The free event is at 967 – 32nd Street (& San Pablo Ave.), Oakland. The event also features poet Tureeda Mikell and photographer Asual Aswad. For more information contact Michele at or call (510) 479-7382.)

Lacy talked about the fear white men have over the sexuality of black men. He used King Kong as a reenactment of the savage beast seduces maiden dance. Except for the profanity laced narratives, Color Struck is provocative, educational and highly recommended for all audiences 12 years old and up.

Lacy is well known for his violence prevention work with youth through Love Life Foundation, named for his daughter LoEshé, who at 16 was murdered October 20, 1997, as she sat in a van with friends outside McClymonds High School in Oakland.
He also hosts a morning radio program called "Wake Up Everybody" on KPOO 89.5 FM, the only African American independent radio station in Northern California.

To find out more about Lacy's work visit:

Color Struck begins and ends in the radio studio, the deejay nothing more than a tour guide through a terrain most in the audience have grown unfamiliar with, a terrain Lacy used to call home.