By Walter Rutledge
The Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center (THPAC) concluded their two-day choreographer’s showcase Souls of Our Feet: People of Color Dance Festival, Thursday, June 20 at the Kumble Theater, Long Island University downtown Brooklyn campus. This series marked the 37th consecutive year THPAC has presented artists of color. Three emerging choreographers Gierre Godley, Roger C Jeffrey and Malcolm Low offered works inspired by the writing of African American LGBGT authors. The three choreographers had the freedom to reference any gay writers of color past or present. In a resounding homage all three artists selected African American author/activist/icon James Baldwin.
After a brief introduction from Executive Chairman Alex Smith the program opened with an excerpt of Jimmy’s Blues by Roger C. Jeffrey. Singer Siaira Shawn delivered an A cappella rendition of the Eden Ahbez classic Nature Boy. The song was followed by a short film, which began with images that corresponded to a dialog by Baldwin. The film became a discussion among a group of artists including Jeffrey, who discussed Baldwin and his impact on the arts and society.
The proceeding choreography began with a solo by William Briscoe. The look and feel was decided urban and the choreographic style had an abstract dance narrative approach. The work was set to the energetic and thought-provoking music of Donny Hathaway, Max Richter, Gil-Scott Heron and Carl Hancock Rux. Todd Burnsed joined Briscoe and the story unfolded into a multi-layered inner-city love story.
The work had the feeling of a period piece circa the irreverently evolving and tempestuous 1970’s; this was reinforced by the music. The section that featured Gil-Scott Herion’s The Subject Was Faggots offered a dramatic shift to the works choreographic prospective. Heron’s derogatory diatribe sent a chilling message of a past mindset that is still prevalent in many factions of the community.
The work ended with a shameless plea for forgiveness. Jeffrey was able to capture the humanistic quality of relationship ups and downs. His approach was void of melodramatic angst, and he was able to find the humor in life’s most challenging situations.
In the Thrust Towards The Future… I want to leave something of use by Malcolm Low was dedicated to Mark Carson, who was recently murdered for being gay. The trio featuring Malcolm Low, Porfina and Riccardo Valentine had a dreamlike quality that fluctuated from playful to serious; lightheartedness to nightmarish. The complex copulation music score consisting of selections from NAS, Bill Withers and Baldwin contributed to the overall effect.
Low abstract approach produced strong visual images that were open to broad and individual interpretation. His choreographic structure and presentation relied on the subtle and effective use of repetition, which he masterfully converted into theme and development/variation. This introduced then reintroduced movement phrases with different intents, which produced a varied imagery and outcomes.
An example of this was Porfina’s “rump shaking” passages that took on different connotations with each “shaking section”. In another section Valentine would call out “Malcolm!” then start to fall, Low would rush in and grab/rescue him before he hit the ground. This created multiple images of lover, friend, protector, and savior. The work ended with Low cradling Valentine conjuring image of a male on male Pietà.
The program closed with The Lateness of the Hour by choreographer Gierre Godley. Godley presented an ensemble work for five male dancers, members from his company Project 44. Baldwin groundbreaking novel Giovanni’s Room inspired this work, which empathized the theme of isolation.
Godley approached the work from architectural/structural viewpoint. He utilized the ensemble to create spatial relationships between the dancers that produced an effective form of abstract storytelling. Justin Smith danced the central figure grappling with his aloneness, accompanied by Dillon Honicker, Aaron McGloin, Patrick John O’Neill and Collin Ranf.
The works strong points were Godley’s use of stillness and his ability to allow movement to maturate over time. His choreographic patience in letting the action evolve as opposed to dictating/forcing the action produced a visually focused work. Godley accomplished his intent with an insightfulness and pathos.
The 37th season of the Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center Souls of Our Feet: People of Color Dance Festival continued the time-honored tradition of presenting multiple artists. For years this format provided much needed exposure to artists and their works to dance savvy audiences a “win-win” situation for both artists and audiences. On Monday, June 24, the organization will present their final spring/summer event entitled PEEKS, a showcase of works in progress, at The Actors Fund Arts Center, 160 Schermerhorn Street at 7pm. The showcase is free to the public, and will present three young dancemakers, Durell Arthur, Lamont Joseph and Kevon Simpson.
In Photos: 1) Project 44 2) James Baldwin 3) William Briscoe and Todd Burnsed 4) Riccardo Valentine 5) Porfina and Malcolm Low 6) Malcolm Low and Riccardo Valentine 7) Project 44 8) Durell Arthur
Photo Credit 1, 3-8 ) Rod Patrick Risbrook 2) MDC Archives