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” (  

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 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

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

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


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 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:

Wanda's Picks Radio Show, Wednesday, March 25, 2014

Rebroadcast From March 13, 2014: Michael Morgan, current Music Director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony and the Sacramento Philharmonic, joins us to talk about OEBS's latest world-wandering chapter in their innovative and popular series exploring symphonic music from various world cultures with Notes from India 3/28, at 8 pm at the Paramount Theatre, Oakland, CA, which includes the world premiere of Where Shadow Chases Light, a new work by young Indian composer Juhi Bansal in her OEBS debut.

Rev. Edward Pinkney
from Benton Harbor, Michigan, founder of the Black Autonomy Network Community Outreach (BANCO), joins us to talk about his work to defend the poor against corporate power, and to reform the court system in Benton Harbor, a town with 70% unemployment and more people in prison per capita than anywhere in the world. He returns to CA for two events, in Los Angeles, Mar. 15, 5-8 p.m. on "Confronting corporate power and the police state." at the Southern California Public Library, 6120 Vermont, with Laura Garcia, editor of the Tribuno Del Pueblo; Sunday, Mar. 16, he will be at the African American Center, 5 p.m., at Sixth & Julian St. in San Jose. Visit

Aisha Brown
, Chair of the 16th Annual Madame CJ Walker Awards Luncheon, Friday, March 14 closes the show. Visit   Music: From Fela, the Musical, "Water, No Get Enemy" and Gina Breedlove's "The Language of Light."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Wanda's Picks Radio Show Special Broadcast: World Water Day & Jazz

We will open with Damu Sudi Alii and Jabari Alii, featured artist with First Edition which is performing Sat., March 22, 2014, 8:30 p.m. at the 57th Street Gallery in Oakland. See 

At 8:30 Danny Nguyen joins us to talk about World Water Day and his composition, “DANCE THE BLEU”, the College of Alameda's Dance Department and Nguyen Dance Company performance, co-sponsored by Oakland Sister Cities International Da Nang, Saturday March 22nd, 7pm. Free Admission in the College of Alameda Dance Studio, G-111. See 

At 9 a.m. Scottish playwright Linda McLean joins us to talk about Every Five Minutes which is going up at the Magic Theatre next week 3/26-4/20/2014. See  and

We close at 9:30 a.m. with an interview with Yeye Luisah Teish who will tell us about the Moisture, The Water Cycle Continues. . . A Ritual Theatre Performance, 7-9 p.m. at La Pena Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, in Berkeley, Sunday, March 23, 2014, (510) 849-2568. Visit

Music from: Jabari Alii, Damu Sudi Alii, MB Hanif, Rene Marie; Paula West

Link to show:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wanda's Picks Radio Show, Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Dr. Carmaletta M. Williams
Dr. John Edgar Tidwell
Adriann Ramirez, PUSH
Carmaletta M. Williams, Ph. D. professor of English and African American studies at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan., author of Langston Hughes in the Classroom: “Do Nothin’ till You Hear from Me” and Of Two Spirits: American Indian and African American Oral Histories and Dr. John Edgar Tidwell, professor of English at the University of Kansas and author of Montage of a Dream: The Art and Life of Langston Hughes, After Winter: The Art and Life of Sterling A. Brown, and Writings of Frank Marshall Davis: A Voice of the Black Press, join us to talk about My Dear Boy, Carrie Hughes's Letters to Langston Hughes 1926-1938

We close the show with frequent guest Raissa Simpson, choreographer, master teacher and Artistic Director of PUSH Dance Company's premiere of "Point Shipyard," March 29-30, 2014 at MoAD-SF. She is joined by collaborators and performers: Katie Wong and Adriann Ramirez

Katie Wong, PUSH

Raissa Simpson, Artistic Director, PUSH
Music: Dwight Tribble's "I've Known Rivers" (based on Langston Hughes's poem by same title); soundscape from PUSH Dance Company's collaboration with the 3rd Street Youth Center & Clinic.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Wanda's Picks Friday, March 14, 2014

Charlotte Hill O'Neal's Heal the Community Tour 2014 stops in the San Francisco Bay this weekend. Mama C is a visual and spoken word artist, musician, filmmaker, long time community activist and co Director of United African Alliance Community Center UAACC based in Tanzania, East Africa.
She is the subject of the award-winning film, Mama C: Urban Warrior in the African Bush, directed by Dr. Joanne Hershfield. She also has a new collection of poetry, Life Slices…a Taste of My Heaven.

Tyrone Davis is a Los Angeles based actor, director, teaching artist, TCG Leadership U Grant Finalist (2012) and Resident Education Artist with American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. He proudly serves as an adjunct drama professor at Contra Costa College, where he is now directing SuzanLori-Parks's "In the Blood" up through Sunday, March 16. He is a graduate of the CalArts School of Theater M.F.A. Acting Program and holds a B.A. in theatre from Cal-State Northridge. Davis made his Bay Area acting debut with the African American Shakespeare Company in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof directed by L. Peter Callender. Contra Costa College's performance of In the Blood at the John & Jean Knox Center for the Performing Arts, 2600 Mission Bell Drive, San Pablo, CA.

Keeper of the Beat : A Woman’s Journey into the Heart of Drumming is an hour-long documentary in which Barbara Borden, an acclaimed drummer, composer and teacher tells her story in eloquent words and toe-tapping music. It showcases the unfolding of Barbara’s identity as she grows from a little girl in love with drumming to a world-class percussionist practicing drumbeat diplomacy.” Filmed on four continents, the film is produced and directed by three-time Emmy Award-winner, David L. Brown.

We are so happy to have both Barbara and David in the studio with us this morning to talk about this wonderful journey and a special screening next Saturday, March 22 in San Francisco.

Next we have an interview with Raphael Russier, company member of Companhia Urbana de Danca from Rio de Janiero, Brazil at YBCA tonight and tomorrow night. Raphael has been dancing since he was a child. Against his mother's will he would sneak out of the house each week and walk for an hour to get to dance classes. She was just worried that he would not be able to support himself. Now that he is successful, she is so proud of him. Shows are Friday-Saturday, at YBCA Forum at 8 p.m. Friday night there is a post-performance conversation. Visit

We close with a rebroadcast of the interview from Wednesday, March 12, 2014, with activists Colette Winlock, Lola Hanif and Lady Sunrise. They are speaking about Fracking and why Oaklanders should get on the bus for Sacramento Saturday at 9:30 a.m. We ran out of time.


Link to today's show:

Music: Mama C's Voices of the Ancestors; Julia Chigamba's Chinyakara in "Tanzania"; Barbara Borden's "Frekoba (West African Song)," "And the Trees" and Alive's "Wild Women Don't Get the Blues." 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Wanda's Picks Radio Special Broadcast: Michael Morgan, OEBS Director; Rev. Edward Pinkney BANCO; Aisha Brown, 100 Black Women's 16th Annual Madame CJ Walker Awards Luncheon

Michael Morgan, current Music Director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony and the Sacramento Philharmonic, joins us to talk about OEBS's latest world-wandering chapter in their innovative and popular series exploring symphonic music from various world cultures with Notes from India Friday, March 28, at 8 pm at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland which will include the world premiere of Where Shadow Chases Light, a new work by young Indian composer Juhi Bansal in her Oakland East Bay Symphony debut, commissioned as part of the Symphony’s New Visions/New Vistas Commissioning Project, along with sitar soloist Stephen Slawek performing Ravi Shankar’s Concert No. 1 for Sitar and Orchestra, excerpts from Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar’s Passages and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92

The evening opens with a pre-concert talk at 7 p.m. with the composer.

Mr. Morgan also serves as Artistic Director of the Oakland Youth Orchestra, Artistic Director of Festival Opera in Walnut Creek, and Artistic Advisor to Sacramento Opera. In addition, he teaches the graduate conducting course at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Rev. Edward Pinkney from Benton Harbor, Michigan, founder of the Black Autonomy Network Community Outreach (BANCO), joins us to talk about his work to defend the poor against corporate power, and to reform the court system in Benton Harbor, a town with 70 percent unemployment and more people in prison per capita than anywhere in the world.

The majority of Benton Harbor’s residents are African American. Whirlpool is the main corporation that runs Benton Harbor and that is leading a redevelopment effort which has taken over lakefront property deeded to the city, and that threatens to displace the community. Reverend Pinkney speaks about why the struggle in Benton Harbor is a harbinger of things to come to states across the nation.
He returns to California for two major events, in Los Angeles, Mar. 15, 5-8 p.m. on "Confronting corporate power and the police state." at the Southern California Public Library, 6120 Vermont, with Laura Garcia, editor of the Tribuno Del Pueblo; Sunday, Mar. 16, he will be at the African American Center, 5 p.m., at Sixth; Julian St. in San Jose. Visit

He is also here to investigate the recent hanging of another black San Jose State University student. This is number 2. See

Aisha Brown
, Chair of the 16th Annual Madame CJ Walker Awards Luncheon, Friday, March 14
closes the show. Visit 

Ms. Aisha Brown works as a Senior Legislative Aide for Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson in the Fifth District. Ms. Brown has committed herself professionally and personally to improving her community in the Bay Area through developing resources, implementing programs and providing access to vital community information. For over ten years, Aisha has worked for Supervisor Carson on policy in the areas of workforce and economic development, STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Math), social services, early care and education, and housing.

Ms. Brown is a native of Oakland, CA, graduating from Skyline High School. She attended San Francisco State University where she received a Bachelors of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology and a Master’s degree in Organizational Management.

Ms. Brown participates on a number of community boards and organizations. She currently is the President of Black Women Organized For Political Action (BWOPA), the Oakland/Berkeley Chapter, one of the oldest women’s political organizations in the state of California. She serves as a member of the City of Oakland Head Start Advisory Board and a member of the advisory board for United Way Earn it Keep It initiative.   She is also a former board member for the Black Coalition on AIDS in San Francisco ;  the Alameda County Meals on Wheels Five Star Dinner Committee; and formerly the Secretary on the board for the Foster Youth Alliance of Alameda County.

Music: From Fela, the Musical, "Water, No Get Enemy" and Gina Breedlove's "The Language of Light."