Walter’s World: Romare Bearden Work Comes to Life In Harlem

By Walter Rutledge

The Nanette Bearden Contemporary Dance Theatre will perform an excerpt of its full-length story ballet On The Block, on Thursday July 7, at 7pm in the Oberia Dempsey Center located at 127 West 127 Street in Harlem.

In this excerrpt the public will meet two couples living one floor apart, but leading totally different lives. Intimate Strangers is an excerpt from the work that explores love, abuse, violence and empowerment.

On The Block is as an homage to the genius of Romare Bearden. The dance theatre work tells six stories; five of the scenarios are based on images from the Bearden collage. The excerpt, Intimate Strangers is based on images found in the fifth panel of the collage.

The July 7th presentation will feature a stellar cast of dance veterans. Dudley Williams and Dyane Harvey will reprise their roles as the couple in apartment 1A. Harvey is the victim of her abusive husband played by Williams. In contrast, Sarita Allen and Walter Rutledge are the upstairs neighbors who live in utter joy and contentment. “If she burnt dinner he would eat it happily”, remarks Rutledge. “He loves everything about her”.

Imagine being trapped in a relationship where love has turned to pity, and is shrouded in shame and violence. To add insult to injury your upstairs neighbors are enraptured always laughing and loving; this is the cruelest blow of all. In her mind above her is heaven and she is listening in her own private hell from down below.

The excerpt is set to the music of jazz legend Billie Holiday’s I’m A Fool To Want You; which was Holiday’s last recording (1958 Lady In Satin album), and the poignant You’ve Changed. Additional music is provided by an original voice track featuring Hope Clarke, Bruce Heath, Greta Martins and Dudley Williams

Williams, a graduate from The Performing Arts High School, attended The Juilliard School of Music and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School. His clean line and commitment to the movement afforded him opportunities to develop his artistry with the companies of May O’Donnell, Martha Graham, Donald McKayle, Eleo Pomare, Hava Kohav, Talley Beatty, and the Coyote Dance Company. In 1964 he joined the Alvin Ailey American dance theatre; his solid and varied technical, and artistic range immediately distinguished him.

He has made numerous solo appearances on television both at home and abroad. He is a sought-after teacher, most recently at The Juilliard School and the Martha Graham School. He has been honored with the Dance Magazine Award (1997) and the 2001 Dance Award for Longevity & Distinguished Contributions to Dance by the International Association of Blacks in Dance. Williams’ love for dancing has not diminished he recently performed in the 2011 spring season PARADIGM.

Dyane Harvey is a founding member and assistant to the director of Forces of Nature Dance Theatre Company. The Harlem based company is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary. In addition to her work with Forces, Harvey has performed with Tony Award Winning George Faison’s Universal Dance Experience, Dunham dancer Walter Nicks’ Dance Theatre, Otis Sallid’s New Art Ensemble, internationally recognized Dance Brazil and the Trinidad Repertory Dance Theatre.

Harvey credits choreographer Eleo Pomare for shaping her approach to movement and dance theatricality. In 2009 she reconstructed two of his solos and provided a biographic presentation on Pomare for The Black Dance Project at the Centre National de la Danse in Paris, France. Harvey appears in the 1980 documentary Bearden Plays Bearden performing choreographer Dianne McIntyre’s Ancestral Voices with sets and costumes by Bearden.

Sarita Allen is an artist who has thrived on exploring the many facets of her artistic gifts. She began her career with the rigors of classical ballet training at the Dance Theater of Harlem, and challenged herself as a member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She became one of Ailey’s favorite muses; and he subsequently choreographed eight original roles for her including the Ailey/Ellington collaborations, The Mooche, and Night Creature.

Extending her scope to television and film Allen performed the role of Sechita in “For Colored Girls…,” (Sundance Film Festival), appeared in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club; and danced with Michael Jackson in the Victory video, which kicked off his national tour. Her acute sense of order and design lead Allen into costume design; her credits include The Jamison Project, Elisa Monte Dance, Maurice Bejart’s, and Ballet Nuevo Mundo de Caracas.

ArtCrawl Harlem™, in partnership with the Nanette Bearden Contemporary Dance Theater and the Romare Bearden Founation, presents this excerpt as a prelude to the centennial of renowned African-American artist Romare Bearden’s birth. Tickets for the performance and reception and film screening at Maysles Cinema (343 Malcolm X Blvd.) are $25. For further information and tickets, please contact (212) 866-7427 or artcrawharlem@gmail.com.

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