Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dance Theatre Of Harlem At New York's City Center

As part of Dance Theatre of Harlem's 20th anniversary celebration, an all-Nijinska program has been scheduled for four evenings during the company's two-week engagement at City Center (June 21-July 2 [1989]).

These evenings will offer dancegoers the unique opportunity of seeing three Bronislava Nijinska ballets performed collectively; a first for an American company.

Although DTH has previously staged Les Biches, Les Noces and Rondo Capriccioso will be company premieres.

"When we did Les Biches five, six years ago," recalled artistic director/co-founder Arthur Mitchell, "Irina Nijinska"--the daughter of one of the greatest choreographers in Serge Diaghilev's Ballet Russes company--"said 'You know, I think it would be wonderful for the company to do Les Noces' and I said 'It's a nice idea.' This year her mother, who is the sister of [the late dancer/choreographer ] Nijinsky, is celebrating her, some say 98th; some say, 99th; some say, 100th birthday. I thought it would be a wonderful tribute [to her] to do that whole evening."

In addition, continued Mitchell, these works reveal "the diversity and the strength of the company" as well as providing balance to the repertoire by giving the audience "something historic and then something new."

One of the ballets--Rondo Capriccioso--has not been performed since its 1952 premiere. This season will mark its American debut.

Fortunately for DTH, Rosella Hightower, who originally danced the part of the Bird of Paradise, and, said Mitchell, "is one of the five great American Indian ballerinas," was able to reconstruct from memory the ballet, "a small piece for four people" that, further stated Mitchell, "even Nijinska's daughter didn't know [about]." Interestingly, she is the only ballerina to ever dance the role. (This time around, Stephanie Dabney, a DTH principal dancer, will be the new Bird of Paradise.)

Other ballets include Mitchell's John Henry, set to music by Milton Rosenstock, Dance Theatre's musical director and Balanchine's Allegro Brilliante, built on music by Tchaikovsky.

This article was originally published in the New York Amsterdam News (June 24, 1989).

Saturday, December 28, 2013

BWMT'S Discrimination Documentation Project

Mitchell Karp, a 28-year-old white lawyer, is a member of Black and White Men Together/New York* and  its Discrimination Documentation Project is part of BWMT's efforts to fight racism in the gay community.

Karp is also a staff counselor at Good Old Lower East Side, Inc. (G.O.L.E.S.), a neighborhood preservation company that serves Lower East Side tenants.

Charles Michael Smith: What is your association with the Discrimination Documentation Project?
Mitchell Karp: As a member of Black and White Men Together [who] has recently taken on responsibility as co-chairman for the Political Action Committee, my affiliation is to oversee the Discrimination Documentation Project with the co-chair James Credle. But my other association with the [DDP] is that I serve as one of a number of attorneys that represent BWMT and the complainants  in litigation under the [DDP].

Anyone can be a member of BWMT and anyone can be a member of the project if they're willing to go through the procedure of coming to political action committee meetings. It's an open organization and we solicit input from all members of the gay community. People who call up to complain about racial discrimination are not solely members [of BWMT]. They've heard about it, they've read about it, their friends have told them.

CMS: How did the project originate?
MK: The project was originated by, I believe, the political action committee. At that time, the people that I know that were involved were Henry Wiemhoff, James Credle, and Glenn Rickles. Rickles is an attorney and I think he played a pivotal role in formulating a lot of the guidelines. It was modeled after the NAACP and HUD (Housing and Urban Development), I believe, housing testers. A lot of the same principles and practices were implemented. I was not involved when it was planned so a lot of my knowledge of the history of the project comes through word of mouth. It started in 1980, '81, I believe. The first documentation was at Circles which was a gay bar on the Upper East Side. Eight people were sent in sets of four couples. Two blacks, two whites, two blacks, two whites. All the blacks were stopped and told they had to fill out membership applications and while they were standing there writing out the forms which required information like bank accounts, three friends, names of other members, the four whites, both sets of couples, were welcomed in and asked if they wanted to be on the mailing list. And that was very successful because the first night that we set up the picket line the bar acknowledged responsibility, committed themselves to apologizing to the black members, made a five-hundred-dollar donation to the project and invited everyone in and went through the whole admission of discrimination. I think that was crucial to the success of the project. The bar then changed and became a straight bar called Gotham and then it closed. But we did follow up the project by returning to Circles about six weeks after the demonstration to test once again its policies and, sure enough, all the testers, both black and white, were admitted with no questions asked.

Note: The organization was later renamed Men of All Colors Together (MACT).

The above Q & A interview is an excerpt from an article that was originally published in the New York Native in 1983.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holiday Greetings

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all the readers of this blog!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Is Radio Drama (In The United States) Dead?

I recently received from HarperCollins a review copy of a paperback psychological thriller called The House on the Cliff by Charlotte Williams, a British author. The one thing that struck me was her back page bio which noted that Williams "works in radio drama, writing original plays and adaptations."

I love radio drama.It has for a long time been known as the "theatre of the mind" because it allows listeners to use their imaginations as they gather around their radios. Unfortunately, radio drama is a dying art in the United States. I hope some enterprising radio producer or broadcast station will make an attempt to revive it. The late radio producer Himan Brown in the 1970s tried to with the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre but failed. That was probably because the productions were too much of a throwback to radio as it was done in the 1930s and '40s rather than doing something innovative or experimental.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Farewell To 1600AM WWRL

A sad farewell to New York's AM1600 WWRL, which is changing its format from liberal/left wing talk to Spanish-language programming at the end of this month. More on this later.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tom Hanks, Typewriter Collector

According to Larry McMurtry, in his book, Hollywood: A Third Memoir (Simon & Schuster, 2010), actor Tom Hanks is a collector of manual typewriters. "I hear that he has more than one hundred now," writes McMurtry, whose novels and screenplays are entirely written on a manual typewriter.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

On New Yorker Cartoons

I don't know if anyone else has noticed this: at the bottom of the table of contents in each issue of The New Yorker, the cartoonists are listed in the order of appearance in its pages.

P.S. The New Yorker has the funniest, cleverest, and most thought-provoking cartoons that are worth clipping and saving or sharing with friends, neighbors, co-workers, and others.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

At Home With The Bronze Liberace

Embedded in the sidewalk in front of the Apollo Theatre in Harlem is a gold-colored plaque with Little Richard's name on it. It is part of the Apollo's "Walk of Fame," which includes other African-American entertainment luminaries like Ella Fitzgerald and Michael Jackson.

Among those who have walked past the theatre, I am probably the only one who has set foot in the Los Angeles home of the man filmmaker and author John Waters said referred to himself as the Bronze Liberace.

In the early 1960s, my mother and I lived in an apartment building in South Central Los Angeles. We had a neighbor named Millie, who had been in show business and knew Little Richard. One evening we went along with her, her husband, and their daughter to Little Richard's house, which was a duplex. My memories of the evening are vague because at the time I was about 11 or 12 years old. But I do remember seeing Little Richard sitting at the piano with people gathered around singing. I do remember going upstairs and seeing people inside a room watching television with the door slightly open. If I had been ten years older, I would have remembered a lot more.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

New Year's Wish

Let's hope that 2014 will be a prosperous and productive year for all of us.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

An Interview With Cicely Tyson, Part 2

Charles Michael Smith: Do you feel you've grown intellectually or emotionally as a result of the roles you've played?
Cicely Tyson: There's the question in my mind that I have which is the result of all the research I do when I'm getting ready to do a role. That always results in what I call "fringe benefits." I was talking to someone earlier today and they mentioned Jane Pittman and Sounder and Coretta King and I spoke of incidents that occurred in the process of my research which I would normally not have had if I did not delve into the lives of the people that I'm getting ready to project. Working with "Jane" was being able to talk to women who range anywhere from the ages of 97 to 105. If you want to know what living in America as a woman who happens to be born black is like, believe me, you find somebody in that age range and talk to them and they'll tell you what it's all about. That's something you can't buy. Those are things that enlarge one spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and every other way.

CMS: How have you been able to balance marriage and an acting career?
CT: In the course of one's life, you come to different levels and different stages. At [one] time I felt very strongly that I could not share myself or involve another person in my life at that time because I was quite saturated with my career. I think that anything that you want in this life you have to work on and work toward and marriage is no different. At the time I decided to get married, I felt that I had [reached] the point in my life and in my career where I could involve another person in my life. So I made the decision to get married based on that. [She is married to jazz trumpeter Miles Davis.]

CMS: Would you encourage anyone to go into show business?
CT: I wouldn't encourage anybody to go into show business but I wouldn't discourage them either. If one really wants to do something, no one can discourage you. I would not encourage anyone to go into the theatre because it's a very difficult profession, especially if your color is black.

CMS: Are you planning to start your own production company?
CT: That's a possibility. [However, funding for such a project] is very, very difficult. We, as a race of people, are highly successful in many other areas. But I don't think we're acclimated enough to having money to risk putting it in ventures such as producing our own plays. But we better start doing it because otherwise we don't have it. We can't wait for The Man to do it because he's doing exactly what he feels will be profitable to him. If he says blacks aren't selling except in musicals, well, that's what he'll do, he'll do musicals. Not straight plays. And why? We're a powerful race of people. We underestimate our power. We don't know our own strength. Why do we need to wait for somebody to hand us a crutch? We don't need that.

CMS: What is the responsibility of the audience to the artist?
CT: It's to support. Elizabeth Taylor, as bad as her reviews are, her theatre was always filled.

This is the continuation of an interview that was originally published on the Inquiry Page of USA Today in 1983. Part one was posted on October 7, 2013. The interview with Cicely Tyson was done via telephone. At the time of the interview, she was playing the role of Miss Moffat, a schoolteacher in 19th-century Wales, on Broadway, in the play The Corn is Green.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Blog Anniversary

This month marks the fifth anniversary of this blog. I hope that the next five years will be even more productive. I also hope to include other voices on this blog.