By Walter Rutledge
The holiday dance season is a time for merriment and spending time with the ones we love- especially our children. This season there are two family oriented holiday productions taking place in the village of Harlem. The Black Nutcracker (see photo above) and The Kwanza Celebration- Regeneration Night, both events will be presented at the world famous Apollo Theater.
The Uptown Dance Academy will present the fourteenth annual The Black Nutcracker on Tuesday November 22 at 7pm. The performance is a special fund raising gala that will honor dancer/choreographer Mercedes Ellington (granddaughter of Duke Ellington), Manhattan Deputy Borough President Rosemonde Pierre-Louis and WBLS radio personality Debi Jackson. Special guest artists American Ballet Theater dancers Misty Copeland and Tobin Eason will perform in the gala performance. The event will be hosted by WBLS radio personality Bob Lee.
Founder and Artistic Director Robin Williams has choreographed an entertaining “urban” version of the traditional holiday classical. The Black Nutcracker is a wonderful dance/theatre odyssey that blends the classical elements with nontraditional dance styles. The music also reflects this esthetic, which includes the original Tchaikovsky music, a jazz adaptation of the Nutcracker suite by jazz great Duke Ellington and African drumming.
In keeping with their commitment of community outreach the Uptown Dance Academy (above) will also offer the Community Cultural Arts Performance Series. The series will consist of five daytime young audience performances on Tuesday November 21 and Wednesday November 22; providing an opportunity for six thousand young people to experience the Black Nutcracker. Tickets for this special one hour and fifteen minute abridged performance are seven dollars.
Ms. Williams, a classically trained dancer with a diverse background, saw the need to provide dance training for the children of Harlem. In 1996 she founded the Uptown Dance Academy. For over fourteen years. Ms. William has provided dance training and performance opportunities for youth ages three through nineteen. “No other theatrical dance school in New York City provides the type of structured training programs that Uptown Dance Academy offers”, confirms Robin. “Our program is designed to expose children to the diversity of dance and to prepare the most talented students for the professional stage.”
The Uptown Dance Academy is located at 171 East 121st Street, offering dance instruction to approximately one hundred and fifty young people. Classes in ballet, tap, modern, jazz, acrobatics, hip-hop and African dance are offered daily Monday through Saturday. The facility is also the home of the performing ensemble the Uptown Kids Urban Dance Theatre.
Many of the young people attending the Uptown Dance Academy live at or below the poverty level. The Academy provides scholarships for eligible students and stipends for the members of the performing ensemble. Plans are underway to expand both the classes offered and the number of students enrolled.
The proceeds from this event will assist the Uptown Dance Academy to move into a larger facility. “We believe that our program instills the cultural enrichment, self-discipline and self-confidence for the young people to achieve excellence in school and in life”, stated Geoffrey Eaton, Board Chair. “And it is essential for us to reach our fundraising goal of $250,000 so that we can provide these opportunities to even more young people in space that is reflective of vision for the Academy.”
Ticket prices for the Tuesday evening gala range from $30 to $150. There will be a VIP reception for the $150 patrons immediately following the performance. Special group rates are available for groups of 20 or more. Tickets can be purchased at Ticketmaster or the Apollo box office. For more information about the Uptown Dance Academy call (212) 987-5030 or http://www.UptownDanceAcademy.com.
The Kwanzaa Celebration- Regeneration Night is billed as “a spiritual and joyous celebration for the entire family to honor the principles of Kwanzaa- family, community and culture”. This event is quickly becoming a Harlem tradition and the Apollo Theatre’s hottest holiday ticket. Based on the principles created by Dr. Ron Karenga in 1966 this celebration has expanded on the concept of “cultural sharing” to produce an actual performance, which illustrates the concept through dance, music and drama.
The production will take place on December 26th at 7pm. This marks the fourth year the performance has appeared at the Apollo Theater, but the Harlem based dance company Forces of Nature Dance Theater has presented the project for the past twenty-eight years. The production was conceived by Abdel R. Salaam, who is the Executive Artistic Director/ Choreographer of Forces of Nature and Artistic Director of The Kwanza Celebration- Regeneration Night. In 1981 his then fledging dance company presented the original production. “It was part of the mission of the company and the mission of my life” professes Mr. Salaam.
“My first work was created for a Kwanzaa Celebration. It was based on the Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of daily living. The idea was to use dance, music and theater to entertain and empower our community”, Abdel explains. “At that performance we wanted to symbolically build a new society. HUD did not have a model of the community so I designed one myself. During the performance we brought elders (adults who were also Harlem residents) on stage to share with the audience their contributions to the community. Then a young person would join each elder on stage, the elder would present the young person with a building from the model and the young person would place it in an open space. Together the elders and the young people symbolically rebuilt the community”.
Over the years many notables have contributed their time and expertise to the celebration these include Essence Magazine editor Susan Taylor, television journalist Dean Memminger, basketball legend Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, dancer/choreographer Chuck Davis and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields. In addition to Forces of Nature Dance Theatre, the evening will feature performances by The Restoration Dance Theatre Company, Songhai Djeli/Flute Visions with Atiba Kwabena-Wilson, Jimi Cruz and Arch Thompson, Percussionist David Pleasant and special guest Camille Yarbrough. Radio personality Imhotep Gary Byrd will be the host of the event.
Tickets are $15, there is a group rate of $12 for groups of ten or more. Tickets for both events are available at the Apollo Theater Box Office or by calling Ticketmaster 212-307-7171. For group sales for Kwanza Celebration- Regeneration Night call 212-531-5306