Sunday, February 13, 2011

Black Choreographers Festival: Here and Now Weekend 1 Sunday, February 13, 2011

I flip on the television to a musical tribute to Aretha Franklin with Jennifer Hudson, Yolanda Adams, Florence (of Florence and the Machine), Christina Aguilera, and Martina McBride doing their version of “Natural Women.” At first I am worried that the Lady of Soul has taken a turn for the worse, but a taped appearance says she is actually doing better now, recovering well. Thank goodness. She looked thinner but healthy in a white dress trimmed in fur.

I don’t know half the winners this 53rd Annual Grammy, or many of the artists performing—I wonder, what station were the judges listening to?

After spending a wonderful Sunday afternoon at Black Choreographers Festival 2011: Here and Now Sunday matinee at Laney College, while one can’t say the evening performances with professional companies weren’t superb, there is something about 100 kids—there were a lot of them--it felt like over a hundred danced across the stage: youth, young adults, all expressing themselves so well creatively, that well—it makes one smile inside—that smile radiating up one’s arms into one’s fingers, down and outward through one’s toes.

They were that good!

The special family matinee began at 4 PM, but the dancers had been at Laney since 9 AM that morning where they participated in dance-related workshops, had lunch, did tech for their performances and then performed.

It was one stunning, high powered performance after another: liturgical magic, in “By the Side of the Road” (1984) performed to Lionel Richie’s “Jesus is Love,” arranged by James Anthony Carmichael, choreographed by Jacqueline Burgess, Laney College faculty—the five dancers lovely in their white gowns—a stained glass projection on the wall--the afternoon closing with Dimensions Extensions Performance Ensemble in Latanya D. Tigner’s “Fly/Lifted” (2005).

Just as Baba Zak and Mama Naomi closed out the evening performances, Saturday night, DEPE were like icing on a delicious cake or maybe they were the ice cream (smile).

Imagine dancers literally flying across the stage, the performance opening with a solo, the ensemble alternating between dances for two, three, entire company, to musical selections from the black heritage songbook: Precious Lord, I'll Fly Away and Lift Every Voice, Traditional songs arranged by Wycliffe Gordon (Precious Lord) and Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir (I'll Fly Away and Lift Every Voice). DEPE performs its 7th Annual Fund Raiser Concert, "Something to be Proud Of," Saturday, March 19, 1011, 7 PM at Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, 1428 Alice Street, Oakland, CA (510) 465-3363 and Geusts include: Art of Ballet, Destiny Arts and East Bay Center for the Performing Arts.

The afternoon opened with a traditional piece: Lamba/Mandiani with Art of Ballet, with live musical accompaniment—which is a gusty move. Art of Ballet was the only performance with live music.

Politics of Education

Yes, Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company went there with excerpts from “Lesson Plans: A Right to an Education,” which I hear premiered on January 20, at Laney in collaboration with Youth Speaks. I wonder where I was, certainly not on that mailing list (smile). Not only was the premise thought provoking: a child’s human right to an education. Consider how arts are the first programs cut when budgets need adjusting. (Destiny has a show at Laney College 3/25/11 through 4/3/11. Visit

Last night, I took some great shots, but Sunday afternoon, the performances were so dynamic and fast paced, all I captured when I looked at photos later were blurs—blurry and blurred (smile).

It’s too bad some of you are reading this after the fact. Next year, plan to attend the Family Matinee.

The set was graduation, the commencement speaker reflecting on her last years in high school—while we wonder where she is going to school, so we can send our kids there (smile) and we find out that PSYCH! such a place doesn’t exist, at least not in this Alameda county public school system.


I am still trying to make it through the Grammy’s . . . Usher and his protégé just finished and I am like, who hired the choreographers? They certainly couldn’t have met those artists featured in BCHN opening weekend: Roquisha Townsend, Rashidi Omari, Phylicia Stroud, Lavinia Mitchell, Sonja Travick or the other marvelous choreographers previously mentioned.

The sound isn’t that great traditionally on television, but there is no excuse for the poor and unimaginative choreography—what’s with the military themes—and the Michael Jackson retro moves—I was like, hum. Even the set for the Justin Bieber performance reminded of something from a Jackson catalog. What saved him was Will and Jada Smith’s son, Jaden Christopher Syre Smith’s appearance—he was about the freshest act on the stage—he was actually singing and dancing at the same time, not singing over his recording as Bieber was.

After Lesson Plans the younger Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company took it away with Boyz (2007). High energy and high spirited these children were hot as they danced across the stage—their entrances and exits as exciting as their floor exercises. They were sharp! And the costumes—oh my goodness!

Then Oakland Technical High Schools Advanced Dance Class 2010-2011, who have a performance coming up this Spring, maybe April—were let’s put it this way, that number from Chicago—“Call the Law-He Had It Commin’” (2004) was so fun, while at the same time so well executed. Those young women could really dance, evident in their solos, as each convict shared the story of how her partner ended up DEAD. The lighting was excellent—especially that on the cells and the soloists as they took center stage. The piece opened with the larger ensemble piece similar theme--the program a part of an advanced class Broadway musical research assignment. I hadn't expected anything quite so sophisticated. My eight year old granddaughter missed the premise entirely, which was fine with me.

Between sets or performances, the audience were treated to Italian ice at intermission, and then after the show and raffle there was chocolate cake—

Grammy Moments

Wow, Esperanza Spalding received the Grammy for Best New Artist. I know her music—met her when she was with the Christian Scott Band and next thing we know, sister-girl has blown up and left Chris in the dust—not really— Chris is still hot, but Esperanza is getting lots of play in all the festivals including: SFJAZZ, Healdsburg Jazz Festival, Stanford Lively Arts.

I am still watching, I know, the plan was to turn it off—but Barbra Streisand is going on now singing one of her classics—“Evergreen.” I really appreciated the roll call and salute of artists who made their transition last year. I hadn’t know Solomon Burke died or that Lena Horne passed as well. We lost a lot of people last year. Did I know that James Moody was gone? I am not certain—I can still see Mr. Burke rocking the Paramount Theatre last Spring at the SFJAZZ concert with Keb’Mo. Mick Jagger’s tribute was awesome, with kiddos to the guitarist. I didn’t understand why Jagger kept pushing him.

Oh, when I was really ready to turn off the set, Cee Lo Green, duetting with actress Gwyneth Paltrow, in a skit featuring Muppets—minus the occasional bleeps (smile), was really cute. Seated at the piano, he reminded me of funk forefather George Clinton, in a red suit—on the line of Big Bird’s without the feathers.

The Grammy’s are getting better as the evening closes . . . hum. I didn’t understand why Rihanna appeared in stage with rapper Drake, dressed like a video whore—when she can sing? Red hair . . . stilettos about the most tasteful aspect of the Cleopatra Jones look. Isn’t she the one who was beaten up by Bobby Brown? What is the new look—a justification for the abuse? Sister-girl needs a therapist.

Funny how one really doesn’t know what good is when one’s choices are limited—all the more reason for programs like Black Choreographers Festival: Here and Now. Local and national in its programming, I’m sure the Grammy’s have to know their name. In fact, I think choreographers have been a part of Grammy programming—the name that comes to mind is Housin’ Authority, who are performing this year as well. Check the schedule


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