Monday, December 31, 2012

The Ups And Downs Of A Gay & Lesbian Film Festival

The New York International Festival of Lesbian and Gay Films, the culmination of a two-year search and acquisition project, comes at a most timely moment--the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village (in which dozens of gay men, many of them drag queens, fought the police back in a raid on a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn) out of which emerged the gay liberation movement.

The festival, an outgrowth of that movement, and the first of its kind in nearly two and a half years, will screen 45 movies, in 77 screenings, during its June 7-20 [1989 ] run at the Biograph Cinema (255 West 57th Street, at Broadway). "We planned it for the month of June," said festival producer Susan Horowitz, the owner of Tower Press, a printing firm that publishes the annual Gay Pride Guide, "to tie into the other cultural emphasis around Stonewall."

While she busied herself with the task of lining up financial backers for the festival within the gay community, her partner John Lewis, who, quipped Horowitz, calls himself "an old movie queen" because of "his passion" for film, "traveled to Berlin and to other film festivals, and was able to see a lot of material."

One of the gems acquired is the 1989 British documentary Desire by Stuart Marshall which discusses through on-camera interviews, stills, and archival footage homosexuality in Germany before and during the Nazi period. (It will be shown opening night for a special screening to benefit the Gay Community Center on 13th Street.)

Said Horowitz: "We had a commitment about a film on Langston Hughes's life by an English filmmaker [Isaac Julien's Looking for Langston] that we were very excited about being able to find on such short notice but it was taken away from us because they decided to hold out for the New York Film Festival which is certainly their prerogative."

The painstaking efforts of Susan Horowitz and John Lewis have paid off in media attention and positive feedback from "the gay community at large," beamed Horowitz. However, there is a downside, too. The New Festival, the sponsors of the event, have sent out via mail, 25,000 copies of the catalogue. Only 32 have been returned requesting that the recipient be removed from the mailing list because they felt that the catalogue--which others have praised for its graphic design--was "disgusting." Horowitz and her cohorts were dismayed to the point of shedding tears, despite the fact that this manifestation of gay self-hatred represented only "a very small percentage."  It became evident to Horowitz that 20 years after Stonewall, there was still "a long way to go" in bolstering gay pride. "That's why a film festival is essential, a community center is essential in every city of every type."

This slightly condensed article was originally published in the Philadelphia Gay News (June 9, 1989).

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pearl Primus, An Authority On African Dance

One of the greats in the black dance field who should be celebrated during Black History Month is Pearl Primus--dancer, choreographer, anthropologist , educator (she is professor of Ethnic Studies at Amherst College in Massachusetts). In the 1940s and '50s, Primus created such a stir with her African-based  dance works among critics and public alike that Walter Terry, the dance critic, now deceased, proclaimed her "the world's foremost authority on African dance."

That designation, resulting from her years of travel throughout the American South, the Caribbean, and Africa to study and document black dance, is anchored to her "search for roots" and her need to reveal "the dignity, beauty, and strength" of black people.

The 70-year-old Trinidadian-born artist-scholar's quest gave rise last summer to a photo-biographical exhibition at the Caribbean Cultural Center, "A Search for Roots: The Life and Work of Dr. Pearl Primus." The exhibition, part of the center's Third Annual Tribute to African Diaspora Women, consisted of many enlarged black and white performance photos from such dances as "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" (based on the Langston Hughes poem) and "Haitian Play Dance" as well as facsimiles of printed concert programs.

Pearl Primus, declared Dan Dawson, who curated the show, is a "living national treasure."

This article was submitted to the New York-based New American newspaper on January 30, 1990,but was not published.

Note: Pearl Primus died in 1994 at the age of 74.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Bringing Jubilation To The Dance Stage

The style of dancing that has brought critical and public acclaim to Jubilation! Dance Company is labeled "kiative movement" by Kevin Jeff, the company's chief choreographer, and has been described in previous press kits as "a unique blend of modern, ethnic, jazz, and classical ballet technique in traditional African dance."

To many of Jubilation!'s fans all of this choreographic nomenclature is of little importance. The bottom line for them is the energy, skill, and joy exhibited by the dancers, both singularly and as an ensemble. All of which has broadened Jubilation!'s appeal not only in this country but abroad. (They recently returned from an extensive tour of 15 American cities and several cities in Canada, Italy, and Switzerland.)

Kevin Jeff founded Jubilation! in 1979 when he was 19 on the advice of his mentor Mr. Lee Lynn Thompson, who taught at the Bernice Johnson Dance Studio in Jamaica, Queens. The name of the company came from a suggestion by a female friend. "At the time, I was choreographing Jubilation! as a dance show," recalled Jeff, who has appeared in the Broadway musicals The Wiz and Comin' Uptown, "not as a dance company. She liked what she saw and said to me, 'I feel jubilant!' I just kept it. It felt good, it felt right."

Since then, Jeff has come a long way. He has done choreography for two Washington, D.C. musicals, Blackbirds and Street Dreams, and choreographed the dance sequence in filmmaker Spike Lee's 1986 comedy-drama, She's Gotta Have It. Jeff's involvement with this film has inspired him to want to do other commercially-oriented work.

This condensed article was originally published in the New York Amsterdam News (September 24, 1988).

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hollywood In The South Bronx

Voice of the People
New York Daily News
220 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10017
July 5, 1977

Dear Editor:

If the city had torn down some of the abandoned buildings in the South Bronx and replaced them with a huge television and motion picture sound stage, it would have helped the city's financial situation enormously. New jobs would have been created, companies providing goods and services would have benefited, and it would have given Hollywood some tough competition.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

The above letter was not published.

Note: There are today film studios in Brooklyn and Queens.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Mrs. Bill Cosby's Comedy Error

American Visions *
2101 S Street, NW
Washington, DC 20008-4011
January 21, 1995                                                                                                                                                                                           

Dear Editor:

In an otherwise wonderful and thought-provoking profile of Camille Cosby [Mrs. Bill Cosby] (AV, December/January 1995), I noticed one erroneous statement. When Mrs. Cosby said that "you don't see anything comedic about Hitler" shown on television, she completely overlooked such televised theatrical films as The Producers (1968) and History of the World--Part I (1981) (both films were directed by Mel Brooks) as well as Charlie Chaplin's 1940 comedy, The Great Dictator, in which he has a dual role--as a Jewish barber and a dictator (a Hitler lookalike named Adenoid Hynkel). She also overlooked Hogan's Heroes, the half-hour comedy series about Allied servicemen in a German POW camp, which made the Nazis look like buffoons and incompetents.                                                                                                                                            
Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

This letter was published in American Visions magazine's April/May 1995 issue.

* American Visions is a magazine devoted to African-American history and culture.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Curtis Sliwa's Disdain For "Brainiacs"

The Voice of the People
New York Daily News
220 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10017
February 11, 1994

Dear Editor:

I have heard [Guardian Angels founder] Curtis Sliwa refer to intellectuals as "eggheads"and "brainiacs." Anyone who uses such disparaging terms as these has no respect for the inquiring mind and has no place on the program lineup of [public radio station] WNYC, a cultural and intellectual oasis on the AM radio dial. Plus his brand of radio would attract to the station the know-nothings and loudmouths who predominate on other talk shows.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

This letter was published on February 26, 1994.

Monday, December 17, 2012

An Underground Hideaway

Now that the AIDS epidemic has entered its second decade, more and more plays like Michael Fife's The Hideaway Hilton, will appear on Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway stages to explore the worrisome issues of internment and quarantine.

In The Hideaway Hilton, which ran for three weeks at the Theatre of 224 Waverly Place (Greenwich Village), six characters have hidden in an underground bomb shelter to escape the intensive roundup by the authorities of all those infected with an unnamed disease (probably AIDS, to judge by the symptoms alluded to).

With an ear always to the door for the dreaded knock that never comes, the characters--a male escort of rich old ladies, a yuppie couple, a gay man from the Deep South, a lesbian hack writer, and a young woman (under whose house the bomb shelter is located)--while away the monotonous, fearful days underground playing board games and movie trivia, revealing their most intimate secrets, and fighting (verbally and physically) with each other.

The play would have been more poignant had there been more of a gloom-and-doom ambiance and less campiness, particularly from Fife, whose voice and mannerisms bespoke a gay man rather than a fabulously gorgeous hunk who swept women off their feet.

This article was originally published in the New York Amsterdam News (November 21, 1991).

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Play's Exploration Of Four Thorny Issues

True to its title, Face to Face, a two-act play which ran recently at the National Black Theatre in Harlem (in association with the Brooklyn-based Rainbow Repertory Theatre), bravely confronted four thorny issues within the African-American community: homosexuality, color-consciousness, sexism, and class, with a generous amount of humor thrown in to ease the tension.

The action of the play takes place entirely in the inner city Washington, D.C. home that Neal (Jeff A. Haskins), a black nationalist undergrad at Howard University, shares with Marcus (Raan Lewis), a religious homeboy.

When Neal's brother Sammy (Bryan Webster), who is about to graduate from Notre Dame, calls him from the airport to announce his arrival in town, Neal rebuffs his request to stop by. It's clear there is no love lost. One cause of the tension is Sammy's "theft" of Neal's girlfriend Hillary. Another source of tension is Sammy's reputation as the "boy wonder" of the family.

While waiting for Neal to come home, Sammy meets Marcus. They instantly take a dislike to each other because of class differences. When Catherine (Tia Sinclair), a light-skinned classmate of Neal and Marcus, enters the picture, she accepts Sammy's invitation to dinner. Neal hits the roof when he learns he has lost another girl to Sammy. After he finds some love letters in Sammy's bag addressed to a guy named Tim, he sees his chance for revenge.

During the confrontation with Neal, Sammy gets his second attack of stomach pains (AIDS-related?) which forces Neal to regard his brother with more sympathy. That sudden change of heart I found unbelievable, especially since the brothers, Neal in particular, have such deeply rooted animosity toward each other.

Near the end of the play, Sammy, with suitcase in hand, prepares to catch his flight back to Notre Dame. Before he can set foot outside the door, he and Marcus come face to face again. This time the confrontation has a murderous result when Marcus, a closet queen, discovers his true feelings for Sammy.

Although Bryan Webster's acting is a little wooden and he and Jeff Haskins look too old to be undergrads, you'll be too involved in the swiftly moving story to care, especially when Raan Lewis, a truly gifted actor, is on the stage.

This article was originally published in the New York Amsterdam News (November 21, 1991).

Dreams And Knowledge, And Real Estate Musical Chairs?

The West Side Spirit
242 West 30th Street, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10001

Attn: Letters-to-the-Editor

May 16, 2000

To the Editor:

In Felicia Lee's "Coping" column in the Sunday New York Times (March 26) entitled "Dreams and Knowledge, Under One Roof," she neglected to mention that the Columbia Branch of the New York Public Library on West 113th Street, near Amsterdam Avenue, has only been in its present location for four years. In January of 1986, it left its previous site on West 113th Street in the Butler Library building at Columbia University.

Now, four years after the move, Ms. Lee writes that the "good news for the neighborhood" is that the library will be relocated to "a space 10 times as big down the block" later this year or the early part of next year. "It's new home," she reports, "will be in another Columbia building."

This is the only branch in the library system that I know of that is being bounced around like this. What troubles me, as a frequent user of the Columbia Branch, is how long will the university allow it to stay in the new location? Will the branch, every four or five years, be the victim of what amounts to a real estate version of musical chairs? Perhaps the public library should consider putting the branch in a building that it owns and operates.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

Note: The above is a previously unpublished letter.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Putting Ethnic Prejudice On Parade

West Side Spirit
242 West 30th Street, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10001
June 26, 2000

To the Editor:

Johnson Corrigan's hateful letter (June 12, 2000) regarding the Puerto Rican Day Parade is an excellent example of the racial animosity, prejudice, and intolerance that people of color have to face every day in this city.

It also underscores the fact that bigotry is not a Southern redneck phenomenon, it exists among the so-called Eastern elite as well.

Corrigan ought to take a closer look at those he derisively calls "lower class, out of control, immodestly dressed, raucous Latino people." (It's surprising he didn't call them savages.) Many of these same people he sees as other are probably the ones employed in or near his Upper East Side neighborhood as doormen, maintenance workers, transit workers, hospital workers, restaurant help, delivery truck drivers, nannies, cashiers, movie theatre ushers, letter carriers, etc. And, like Corrigan and his neighbors, pay taxes and raise families.

What Corrigan has done is demonize an entire group of people because of the misdeeds of a few. (Were the senior citizens in the crowd, for example, being raucous and immodestly dressed?)

Corrigan's letter is more than about what offended him at a particular ethnic parade. It's about how he feels the other 364 days in the year about Latinos.

His deep-seated antipathy makes him unable to differentiate the good from the bad. Maybe if he took the time to understand the many Latino cultures, genuinely finding out "who they really are," he would be less inclined to paint all Latinos with the same brush.

Sincerely yours,
Charles Michael Smith

This letter was published in the West Side Spirit (July 6, 2000).

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Breaking The Mental Chains Of Black Gay Self-Hatred

Like its predecessor, Men of Color, A Warm December, published in February [1992] by the Vega Press, offers something of interest to aficionados of each of the three genres it contains: poetry, illustrations, and photography. Also like the previous book, A Warm December, which is divided into seasonal sections, tries "to redefine the negative image [of black men] that's out there," said Lloyd Vega, the founder of the three-year-old press, "and do it in a sensual way. The books show that we're strong, compassionate; that we're lovers, brothers; that we can also be a friend, a confidante, and not a trick [illicit sex partner]."

The images found in A Warm December, contended Vega, are the very opposite of Robert Mapplethorpe's view of black men--sex objects with "the heads or arms cut off, dehumanizing us. No wonder people are afraid of us, envy us."

These pervasive negative images coupled with the dearth of books available about black gay men fueled Vega's determination to create his own publishing company. "One of my goals has been to publish new artists," said Vega, a 37-year-old Philadelphia architect, "and give them the chance that [writer-editor] Joe Beam gave me when he published an illustration by me in [the black gay anthology] In the Life." Among Vega's discoveries are w.e.s. and Jerome Whitehead, both of whom are in the new book. (A Warm December is #2 on the bookstore A Different Light/New York's bestseller list in the Men's Softcovers category.) After hearing them read their poems in a gay bar in Philadelphia, he told them he was impressed with the quality of their work and that he would like to include them in his upcoming anthology.

Vega (the name is an acronym for victory, empowerment, gratitude, assessment) sees his work as part of an ongoing effort to break the "mental chains" of self-hatred that afflicts many black gay men, self-hatred that manifests itself in black-on-black crime, drug addiction, and other self-destructive behavior. The Vega Press's chief mission is achieving  for black gay men "empowerment. It's about taking control of our images, showing black male images by black photographers for a change."

Future Vega Press projects include a book of short stories, two books of poetry, and a line of greeting cards. Each endeavor will echo the sentiments of one of Vega's poems: "Respect yourself, my brother,/for we are so many wondrous things."

Vega will be reading from A Warm December as part of "Outspoken: A Gay and Lesbian Literary Series" at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, 236 East 3rd Street, Manhattan, on April 1 [1992].

This article was originally published in NYQ magazine (April 5, 1992).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Dancing About Black Males

The two-year-old DeNoble Men's Dance Company, under the direction of its founder, choreographer/dancer Robert Logan Mayo, who danced with the Alfred Gallman and Donald Byrd companies, will present an evening-long concert of  duets and trios called "Men on Dance" on August 13, 14, and 15 [1992] at the Downtown Dance Studios, 69 West 14th Street, near 6th Avenue. This will be DeNoble's first dance concert since March of this year [1992] when they performed a benefit performance for the Upper Room AIDS Ministry of Harlem at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, where Mayo was a student.

With only a cast of three male dancers, DeNoble will explore themes that range from euthanasia to issues that face black men in general and black gay men in particular.

According to Mayo, who has been dancing for 12 years, DeNoble's repertory consists of seven dance works. By September it will expand to 10. Six of those pieces, three of them premieres, will be on the upcoming program. They include "A Different Testament," a trio choreographed by Mayo, and "Dove," a duo, also choreographed by Mayo, set to music from the gospel musical, The Gospel at Colonus.

This article was originally published in the New York Amsterdam News (August 15, 1992).

Monday, December 3, 2012

"Streetboy Dreams": An Unusual Love Story

Streetboy Dreams is Kevin Esser's first novel, published by the New York-based Sea Horse Press, and is the story of an oftentimes stormy and frustrating love relationship involving Peter Versani, a young schoolteacher and a 14-year-old streetboy named Gito Lopez whom Peter meets one night in a neighborhood bar while the boy is selling candy from a cardboard box. It is the beginning of a relationship that results in Gito, an orphan, moving into Peter's apartment and Peter discovering, and accepting, his attraction to adolescent boys.

The author, a 30-year-old elementary school music teacher, has completed another autobiographical novel Mad to Be Saved, which "deal[s] with my life between the ages of 14 and 22."

Esser has had 30 short stories published. Among them a trilogy set in Morocco: "Renaissance Boy" (his favorite of the three) published in Panthology Three; "Memory of Khalid," NAMBLA BULLETIN; and "Tangerine Daze," which was also" in a NAMBLA publication ."

The Joliet, Illinois native, who calls himself a nomad, has lived in Boston, London, Paris, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and Mexico. He now lives in a small town in Illinois, " a little factory town of 40,000 people. It's just a typical middle western city but I've been here so often, off and on for so long, it's pretty much home. I use it as a home base."

There is, according to Esser, no gay life to speak of in his small town which doesn't bother him one little bit. "There's people here," he said, " and that's all I'm interested in. Gay bars, gay cinemas, gay this, gay that, I've never been involved in that anyway. I try to stay in the shadows [he laughed] as much as possible."

The youngest of two children (he has a brother), Esser, half Italian and half German, grew up as an Italian. (His immediate family had no involvement with the German side of the family.) Esser's Italian background probably explains why he made Peter, a principal character in Streetboy, a member of that ethnic group.

Esser is six feet tall, weighs 180 pounds, has brown hair and eyes, wears a beard and glasses. The glasses, he claimed, causes people to think he looks professorial.

Esser spoke with me via phone from his home in Illinois.

Charles Michael Smith: How much of Streetboy is autobiographical?
Kevin Esser: It's almost completely autobiographical. I jumbled around a few events in order to make it more dramatically pleasing. The relationships, the settings, the characters were all real.

CMS: What inspired you to write the book?
KE: Well, mainly because I had never read a book on the subject that had pleased me before. So I decided to write one of my own. I was tired of books that either dwelled on nothing but the negative aspects of affairs like that via the self-pity and the despair involved or mostly things that Pan, a magazine from Amsterdam, had come out with. Stories that were just fantasy and unrealistic. They publish an anthology once a year called Panthology. They're stories that have to have a happy ending. Always it's just man meets boy, the boy falls in love with the man, and they live happily ever after. I wanted to write something a little more realistic, dealing with the situation as it would have really happened. Something a little more well-written. There seemed to be a dearth of talented writers in the field. I wanted to see if I could turn out a little better product.

CMS: How long did it take you to write Streetboy?
KE: About three months. it was the first novel I had written so I was more or less teaching myself how to write the thing as I went along. It took a lot of rewritings. The second novel went much, much faster. Of course, I wasn't using [in Streetboy] the style that I was most comfortable with either. I deliberately used a very, sort of, orthodox, traditional writing style.
Since it was my first novel, I didn't want to try anything experimental which is usually the way I write. I wanted to write an unusual love story that wouldn't turn off any readers because of stylistic excesses or whatever. The second novel is written in a much more, sort of, lyrical, experimental style. I thought I could get away with it at that point. I already knew my editor and had some connections. The way it turned out I was right about that. [With] Streetboy, I wanted to play very safe. In the second novel, the style is part of the story because the main character is slightly crazy at the time so the style is slightly lunatic also. It's told in the first person so there's a much stronger feeling of the character's voice involved in the story. 

CMS: Were you afraid you might get a great deal of criticism from people who are not sympathetic to this type of love affair?
KE: That doesn't bother me. However people react to it is their problem, not mine.

CMS: How long have you been involved in man/boy relationships?
KE: Since I was about 14 I've been sexually active. As soon as I became an adult then I became the adult in the situation instead of the boy.

CMS: At 14 were you involved with older men?
KE: Well, no, actually not. Just with other boys at that point.

CMS: When did you decide that you were attracted to boys?
KE: It was never a conscious decision, just a matter of allowing myself to become involved with whoever I chose to at the time and allowing relationships to develop. In a lot of cases, it's just a matter of not cutting a relationship off because situations develop like that all the time which you can really fall into very easily. I don't go out looking for them very often really. I put myself into situations, just leave myself open to things, see what happens. I don't want to get too specific either.

CMS: When your boy lover grows up, does the relationship continue in some way?
KE: Actually every situation I've been involved in either the boy or I have moved away while the relationship is still going on or immediately after. I've always led a very nomadic lifestyle. There's never been a situation where the boy has grown up and I've still been around. I never met any kids that I knew after they have grown up.

CMS: Is it possible for you and the boy to continue having sex well into his adulthood?
KE: Hmmm, no. Probably the sexual aspect of the relationship would end. We could just remain friends. I certainly wouldn't, as I've seen it described in a lot of literature, just use the boy sexually and then cast him aside. That wouldn't happen. We'd certainly remain good friends. All the relationships have been based on a lot of friendship and genuine affection, not just some sort of hustler affair.
Adult males don't excite me sexually so there'd really be no more chance of that than if I had a sexual affair with a woman.

CMS: Wouldn't you say that your attraction to boys may be due to a desire to stay youthful? Or did it come about because of your lack of confidence in dealing with adults sexually and socially?
KE: I never bothered to explore it really very deeply. It's just what I find beautiful. It's my aesthetic perception of the world. I find the ideal of physical beauty in adolescent boys. That's what I find most attractive.

CMS: It seems to me that the availability of boys is much easier in Mexico, for example, than it would be in the United States.
KE: It is much easier in other countries. The cultures are much different in the United States, England, and a couple of other places. There're really exceptions to the rule as far as attitudes towards sex are concerned. Even in countries like Morocco where the religion very strictly forbids homosexuality, there's sort of a double-edged sword. There's a very long and deep-rooted tradition of man/boy love in the culture itself underlying the religious attitudes which isn't true in this country at all.
In Morocco, a man/boy relationship would be preferable to a man and a girl. The girls are kept very closely guarded. The boys are allowed to run totally free. So it would be the reverse in countries like that. A man having an affair with a young girl would be much more objectionable than fooling around with one of the boys.

CMS: In ancient Greece, man/boy love was quite prevalent and accepted.
KE: That's all through the Mediterranean, even now.

CMS: Would you prefer to live overseas?
KE: I would prefer to be able to visit there as often as I'd like. I don't think I'd want to live there as much as I like one aspect of the culture. I am a product of this society. I still like hot showers and Big Macs and color TV.

This article was originally published in the New York Native in a slightly different form in 1984.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Jubilation! At The Apollo Theatre

Sad to say, but when dancers Aaron Dugger and Glenn Ford Good died, much of the magic and energy of Jubilation! Dance Company  went with them. Despite the enthusiasm of the Apollo Theatre audience at the June 1 [1991] benefit performance for Jubilation!'s Center of Enrichment, that overriding thought could not be dispelled.

Part of the problem was that with the exception of Robin Gray, all of the current members are new and, unlike their predecessors, who unfailingly gave me a spine-tingling, vicarious experience, left me totally without satisfaction.

And that's a shame because for me Jubilation! has always meant an evening of soul-stirring, sensational dance.

Another problem was with the program. I had trouble following it because the sequence of the dances did not always coincide with the printed program. Fortunately a couple of the works from the repertoire, "Nia Keii" and "Dedication," served as "landmarks."

The most beautiful of the night's offerings was Martial Roumain's assertive, thought-provoking "Essence (A Portrait of Four Women)," set to the music of Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, and others. Although the dancers, each wearing a dress of a different color (red, black, green, white), failed to bring dramatic intensity to their character (Robin Gray should have been cast here), the ideas and emotions expressed through the use of movement were recognizable.

During the intermission, a heavy-set, bespectacled West Indian lady approached me in the lobby when she saw me making notes and exclaimed, "That last dance ["Essence"] was so beautiful." Indeed it alone was worth the price of the ticket. The four women embodied the agony, despair, nurturance, and triumph experienced by black women throughout American history.

Jubilation!'s signature piece, "Dedication," which traces the African odyssey from the Motherland to present-day America in three sections, lacked its usual sparkle. In the first section, "Oluwa, Many Rains Ago," sung by [the South African performer] Letta Mbulu, I kept visualizing Aaron Dugger as the Child of a New World, a role he originated and partnered with Kevin Jeff (who was cast as the Ancestral Elder, a role he reprised at the Apollo). Willie Edward Hinton's performance was overshadowed by Dugger's indelible mark on the role.

Anthony Marshall's long, tedious "In His Name," dedicated to Dugger and soloed by Jeff in a G-string-like costume, had Jeff rolling and flinging himself all over the stage, making at times grunting sounds, like a person possessed by demons. I wasn't sure what point was being made. Was Jeff being tormented by the loss of his close friend?

At the end of the program, Jeff, Jubilation!'s artistic director and founder, addressed the audience. He brought the news that this might be the company's last performance. He attributed the possibility of Jubilation!'s demise to financial difficulties. Some of the trouble, I think, might be due to the fact that Jubilation! has lost much of the spirit and joy it once had in abundance.

Note: According to Denice Jeff, Jubilation!'s public relations coordinator, the company plans to return to the Apollo sometime in the fall [of 1991].

This article was originally published in the New York Amsterdam News (June 22, 1991).