Friday, October 21, 2016, at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, I found myself sitting front row of History. History is not made at the performance when people are clapping and cheering. History is made at the inception of ideas and putting them on the stage. The trial and error process to find the right vocal note, the right movement, the proper silhouette, that make the creators feel.
When I got the call from my teacher/mentor Dianne McIntyre to attend her rehearsal for the Dance Theatre of Harlem, it was one of those moments where I knew exactly where I had to be. I sat front row of the rehearsal after watching a ballet demonstration and presentation of excerpts from different ballets by the company. The show was a history lesson of ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem (founded in 1960 by Arthur Miller and Karel Shook) for a sold out crowd of students (grades k-12) and a group of senior citizens. It was amusing to hear the kids screaming when the house lights went off, and laughing at the men wearing tights. The show ended with an excerpt from Return choreographed by Robert Garland where he combined soul and ballet, it was a crowd favorite as everyone was clapping along to “Mother Popcorn” by James Brown. The women behind me couldn’t stop saying “Get it, girl!” as Chyrstyn Fentroy swung her hips on pointe.
Back to rehearsal…
I was sitting front row as Dianne McIntyre introduced the company of Dance Theatre of Harlem to the Spelman Glee Club, whom will be performing with a dance trio this weekend, Change choreographed by Ms. McIntyre. Everyone was smiling and giggling, then the Spelman Glee club started to fill the theatre with their pipes and everyone was blown away. It got real! No choir can sing a Negro Spiritual like Spelman Glee Club.
Artistic Director of DTH, Virginia Johnson was in the house making sure everything was running smoothly and everyone was satisfied. Tech started and dancers started marking the dance and going over spacing. It was time for a run through. Sections of the piece are to live percussion and then two Negro Spirituals sung by Spelman Glee Club. When I saw it all come together, I thought to myself, this is what the past, present, and future look like, this is time travel through my history, and this is just the rehearsal.
After the run through it was time for notes, and all creative heads had notes for their performers. Dr. Kevin Johnson who is the director of the glee club went over the smallest parts to make sure all, approximately 60, singers were tight and together, singing as one, with the same intention, and to make his point clear he sang full voice an example of how it should be done.
Dianne McIntyre was giving notes to the light designer, percussionist, glee club, and her dancers to make her vision right.
The Ballet Masters (Keith Saunders and Kellye Saunders) huddled the dancers to go over specific, detailed corrections.
Ms. Johnson was going over lighting to make sure the brown skin dancers were lit properly.
I was surrounded by passionate people who love what they do and it was overwhelming. It is not everyday where you are witnessing front row people who are living and practicing what they love to do, and I realized how sad that is and how blessed everyone in that theatre is.
I see the show on Sunday. So don’t worry as the scoop is not over.
This poem was written by Janerica Smith for Spriggs Burroughs Drama and Dance Ensemble’s rally called The Neo Black Arts Movement at Spelman College. The rally was for students to showcase their artistic expression for Black Lives Matter through dancing, acting, poetry, and singing.
Actor: Assata Hefner
Dancer & Choreographer: Ciara Jones
*Sorry the first word was cut off in the video. It read:
“Seems like the killings wont cease and all we want is peace, so someone tell me when will it end?”