By Walter Rutledge
Two legends Talley Beatty and Thelma Hill were remembered. The legacy of their lives and work were introduced to an entirely new generation dance enthusiasts.
Loretta Abbott choreographed and performed a work in tribute to Thelma Hill. The work started as a dance class with Abbott correcting students and demonstrating movement. The dance then developed into a celebration of Hill’s love of Latin dances and rhythms.
After her performance Abbott told the audience about the circumstances surrounding the death of Thelma Hill. The attentive audience gasped as she explain how Hill was asphyxiate by a gas leak while preparing Thanksgiving dinner for friends. When she was found her cat was dead in her chest, apparently her pet had scratched her neck trying to revive her. Abbott praised Hill as both a great teacher and good friend.
The other tribute was a performance by Naney-Jerome Stigler of the modern dance classic Mourner’s Bench. The work was choreographed by Talley Beatty in 1947 and remains one of the benchmarks in Black dance. Set to the music of Balm and Gilad the moving work was well received by the audience. Stigler performed with great passion and authority.
Roger C. Jeffrey presented an excerpt from “Lealtad nos Libera” with music by Caetano Veloso and Meshell Ndegeocello. The work consisted of two sections both had a poignant quality which immediately endeared the audience. The duet danced by Carolina Monnerat and Drew Shuler was a touching moment, and the sincerity of the choreography and the performers interpretation transcended the Spanish lyrics. Monnerat’s solo was equally as moving.
The excerpt from Got Zulu! performed by Juxtapower/South Africa’s Dance and Song was an abridged history lesson. The work took us from the rhythms of the boot dance to the B-boy free style of today’s South Africa. Choreographer and director Sduduzo Ka-Mbili fashioned a concise high-energy dance, which resonated with the audience. The amalgamation of the different dances was extremely effective in showing the correlation between past and present movement styles.
Thomas/Ortiz Dance offered two contemporary ballet works, both dances were set to classical music. Corelli with music by Antonio Corelli and choreographed by Thomas and Ortiz was a large group work that displayed clean, unison ensemble dancing. Ted Thomas and Frances Ortiz danced the duet entitled Frayed Ends, with choreography by Ortiz. Set to Rachmaninoff the couple performed the intricate lifts and intense partner with great style.
Purelements closed the program with An Ancestral Odyssey, an excerpt/ work-in-progress. The opening narration and ominous music provide the proper prolog for this science fiction infused work. Choreographer Kevin A. Joseph has done an excellent job creating an other world quality with simple yet focused choreographic imagery.
At the end of the performance Executive Director Alex Smith Jr. asked the audience who had seen Mourner’s Bench for the first time. More than half the audience raised their hands. This is the mission of Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center to not only promote new artists and showcase new dance works; but to educate the public by also presenting the groundbreaking choreography from dance masters.
In Photo: 1) Whitney V. Hunter *2) Loretta Abbott* 3) Sduduzo Nunu Ka-Mbili and dancers **4) Juxtapower company* 5) Ted Thomas and Frances Ortiz** 6) Purelements**
Photo Credit: Rodney Hurley* E. Lee White **
Video Edit: Walter Rutledge