Kay Bourne Arts Report – Issue #19

June 15th, 2006  |  Published in Kay Bourne Arts Report


by Kay Bourne
151 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #19 KATHERINE DUNHAM, 1910 – 2006. The legendary Katherine Dunham has died at96. A pioneer in the dance world and beyond, she wasa dancer and choreography, a Broadway success and ananthropologist, a teacher and author, a civil rightsactivist and humanitarian. This issue of the KayBourne Arts Report is dedicated to this arts heroine.

Katherine Dunham was 81 when I met her, and walkingwith a cane because of arthritis. In her view,however, she still danced. “People say to me, whendid you stop dancing? I tell them, Never! I think ifyou ever danced, you don’t stop. That’s because ifyou danced properly, you danced inside.”

She said she found the strength she demonstrated inall she risked and did as a result of challengingthe color consciousness that functioned to limit heropportunities.

As to the arthritis, she says, “it first hit mewhen I was 10 or 11. And I found it hurt worse goingdown, then going up.”

Her life abundantly illustrates Katherine Dunhamchose to go up.

Katherine Dunham had already established herself asa dancer/choreographer, and was leading her owncompany when she was a student at the University ofChicago, studying anthropology. She won a RosenwaldFoundation grant that enabled her to travel to theCaribbean. Her trip included a stay in a village ofMaroons, in the uplands of Jamaica, later describedin her first book “Journey to Accompong” (1946).

At the crossroads of an academic career in anthropology or a performing career in dance, shechose to go down both paths.

Her New York debut, March 7, 1937, at thecelebrated YMHA’s Negro Dance Evening, was atriumph. She became dance director for the WPAFederal Theatre Project in Chicago, and in 1938performed “L’Ag ‘Ya,” a dance based on the folkloreshe had recorded and studied in Martinique.

In 1939, she went to New York again, this time asdance director for “Pins and Needles” at the NewYork Labor Stage, but bringing along her company inhopes of doing some of their repertoire.

She obtained the Windsor Theater at Broadway and48th, presenting “Tropics and Le Hot Jazz,” with acast that included her principal drummer Papa Augustin.

The following year saw her and her companyperforming on Broadway in “Cabin in the Sky” at theMartin Beck, which ran through 1941. During thisperiod she was also writing and publishing articleson anthropology under the name Kaye Dunham.

Her career continued in like fashion through thedecades until the 60′s, including tours of Mexicoand Europe from 1947 – 1949, opening in London with”Caribbean Rhapsody” in 1948. This company includedEartha Kitt. Then, a talented but untried teenagerfrom Harlem who’d made it into the Dunham company inNew York, Kitt can be heard on a Decca Recordsalbum, “Katherine Dunham and ensemble/Afro-CaribbeanSongs And Rhythms.” These were songs Dunham hadcollected in her travels through the African Diaspora.

She so influenced Alvin Ailey, for one of herheirs, he devoted a season, 1988, to recreating thedances of the Katherine Dunham company. Her workshave been integrated into the operas “Faust,” ScottJoplin’s “Treemonisha,” and the New York MetropolitanOpera’s 1964 production of “Aida.”

“I intended to tie the arts and science closertogether in a dance anthropology, a collaboration,”she said.

This marriageof approaches to dance “is what I remain very muchinterested in and have been interested in all my life…I think I wasput here to do what I have done,” she said.

Women’s Intn’l Center KATHERINE DUNHAM bio

by Cheryl K. Symister-Masterson
152 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #19 Katherine Dunham’s obituary on May 22, 2006, one day afterher death, was probably quickly scanned by mostMonday morning readers and forgotten. Yet, to callthis great American dancer, choreographer,anthropologist, writer, activist and voodoopriestess ‘multi-talented’ and ‘multi-faceted’ are dimdescriptions.

Dunham’s roles as taskmaster and trailblazer wererequired when she demanded social justice forAfrican-Americans, while she also demanded perfectform from her dance students.

In her adopted home of East St. Louis, a city-widetribute to her is planned for June 22, on what wouldhave been her 97th birthday. But there was anothercity she resided in and began her work in meldingmovements from African-Caribbean andAfrican-American social dances with modern dance andballet techniques. Chicago resident Rahsaan ClarkMorris, a stage technician and jazz journalist, hasnever experienced a Dunham production or worked oneof her shows, but he has enjoyed viewing her work onscreen, particularly in 1943′s “Stormy Weather.” “Sheexerted exuberance and connectedness with Africanrhythm.”

Katherine Mary Dunham was born near Chicago in1909. There she began her dancing career in highschool. At the University of Chicago, a lecturegiven by anthropology professor Robert Redfieldenlightened Dunham to the fact that black culture inmodern America was formed in Africa. With thiskernel of knowledge, she focused on anthropology asher major and began her research on dances of theAfrican Diaspora. (As well as receiving her doctoraldegree in anthropology from the University ofChicago, Dunham also received her bachelor and master’sdegrees.)

Kennedy-King College, part of City Colleges ofChicago, is home to The Katherine Dunham Theatre.The children’s group, Chocolate Chips Theatre Co.performs there, as well as the Najwa Dance Corps andfor many years the Muntu Dance Theatre. It is also atraining ground for African American theatrical technicians.

Though some have characterized Dunham’s early danceperformances as exotic or even erotic, Morris, aTheater Arts Major from Dennison University in Ohio,contends that Dunham made a connection early on withher heritage. “Here was an African-American womanwho had gotten into the cultural connection betweenAfrica and the Caribbean Islands and the UnitedStates– the “diasporal” connection – before anyoneelse. Yes, there were others – writers and dancers,dancers like Josephine Baker. But Baker made it allmore exotic, giving them [the French] what theywanted [for entertainment]. But Dunham was veryserious about the diasporal, spiritual connection.”


by DeAma Battle,
Founder, Art of Black Dance and Music, Inc.

153 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #19 Before I was born, Ms. Katherine Dunham, DanceAnthropologist, performing artist and dancehistorian was breaking down the barriers that keptAfrican-rooted dance and music away from the Broadwaystage. Ms. Dunham’s Dance Technique introduced a newvocabulary of dance movements, based on the folkloreof African-rooted traditions in the Caribbean, particularly Haiti.

Early in my dance career, I studied various stylesof dance, both contemporary and cultural. I lovedbeing able to move from one side of the beat to theother and then become a ballet dancer on pointe, sometimes with taps. Ms. Dunham’s backgroundseemed mysteriously exciting as an anthropologistand as an artist, as were the books she wrote abouther experiences in the Caribbean. The fire was litin my heart and I wanted to visit some of the placesshe talked about and to see this part of thelifestyle unfold. I was lucky enough to attend oneof Ms. Dunham’s Summer Institutes in Dance at herSt. Louis Studio when African dance was justbreaking barriers across the US.

Education and self-education was the equalizer. Iwas curious and anxious to learn, and at that timeno school could have filled this cup, in terms of myculture. It was “be there, on-site for a first handlook.” I was so moved by her mix of anthropology anddance history and merging of African Caribbean Dancetechnique into the ballet/modern world of dance,that it reinforced my desire to study cultural danceabroad to comprehend the stories and pathways of ourearlier ancestors who came through the middlepassage. The pace setters, Griots and storytellers,dancers and musicians expressing the roots ofAfrican culture through the universal languages ofdance, music and folklore…It was the best move Icould have made.

After years of study, performance and education bothhere in the US and abroad, I’ve watched dance, musicand spoken word unfold untold stories fromAfrica to Europe to the Caribbean and into theAmericas. I knew this was the answer to the missingpages of “American History” and a perfect way toteach children about the arts and history at thesame time.

Most of my life has been spent in pursuit of thisstylish, trend setting culture of ours…becausethere are missing pages in the true history ofAmerica and who we are as descendants of Africanpeople.

My direction, my style ofmovement, my legacy to the youth is what Ms. Dunhamand others like her have left in my hands. In mylifetime, that legacy was to be studied, documented,infused with the experiences of my generation andthe research gathered to create more pages ofhistory and knowledge of the African AmericanCulture. Thus is the foundation of the retention ofAfrican-rooted traditions in the African Americanculture.

Visit DeAma’s ART OF BLACK DANCE website

by Adrienne Hawkins – Impulse Dance
155 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #19 Ms. Dunham was someone who led the way with ideas that were her own, and how she perceived the world to be. She is one of the only African-American dancers that has a technique that is specifically geared toward the concert stage, that she developed and is named after her, and is still in practice today.

I thought, for a long time, that Lester Horton was Black, but he was not. However, he hired Black performers, which in that day and time it was mostly, unheard of. (Lester Horton, 1906 – 1953 – is regarded as one of the founders of American modern dance. He established the first permanent theater in America devoted to dance and organized one fo the first integrated modern dance companies. His ability to translate ethnic dances into commercially acceptable formats led to his choreographing for Hollywood films in the 40′s and 50′s. – Horton excerpts taken from www.hortonsummit.org/biographies.html) Ms. Dunham was Black and she traveled, learned, shared and explored different aspects of Black dance.

She inspired others to do the same, not in her steps, but spaces she cleared for the next generation to move forward with. She is an inspiration to so many dancers, in her teaching, work and how true she was to herself

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS’ Katherine Dunham Collection

by Caldwell Titcomb
154 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #19 Singer MATTHEW TRUSS will have an important role in Peter Eotvos’ opera “ANGELS IN AMERICA,”which is presented this month by Opera Unlimited as a collaboration between Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Opera Boston.

The work, to be sung in English to a libretto by Mari Mezei, is based on Tony Kushner’s two-part play, which won both the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize and is widely considered the foremost American drama of the past quarter century.

Truss, an Indianapolis native who early on was a member of the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, graduated last month from the Boston Conservatory with a degree in opera performance. This spring he received the New England Encouragement Award in the Metropolitan Opera auditions.

He belongs to that rare group of singers known as countertenors: male vocalists who sing in the female alto range. Although he has performed music by such standard composers as Gluck and Bellini, he is no stranger to modern works. Last year he was highly praised for his performance in the title role of Philip Glass’s “Akhnaten” (1984), and this February he was an impressive Oberon in Benjamin Britten’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1960).

The opera, directed by Steve Maler and conducted by Gil Rose, will stage in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, June 16 – 24. Tickets are available by phone at (617) 933-8600. For further information call Opera Unlimited at (617) 451-3388.


by Lisa Simmons
149 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #19 After seven years in the making, THE HEART OF THE GAME finally hits the big screen in Boston this weekend.

Wolves, tropical storms, pirannah’s, killing youropponent, sinking your teeth into their neck, thishardly sounds like a movie about a girls basketballteam, but it is. THE HEART OF THE GAME is an emotionpacked film that pulls at every part of your soul. A must-see for teenagers, females and males alike, this documentary, narrated by LUDICRIS,follows the Roosevelt High School basketball teamfor seven years and views the unorthodox coaching of acollege tax professor who moonlights as their coach.

The movie opens with the focus on the coachmotivating his players to be aggressive on the courtand for them to be thinking of themselves as a packof wolves looking to kill their opponents. “It’s notabout winning and losing,” suggests Coach Resler, “but about how hard you tried, how you overcomeobstacles emotionally, how you rely on other girlsand how they rely on you.” It is with this premisethat he creates the ‘inner circle’ where the girlsblock out any outside influences, including their parents, in order to create a synergy within theteam. He even removes himself from their circlegiving them control of how their game will be played.

The central character of this film, however, is notResler, it is DARNELLIA RUSSELL whose heart-wrenching true story – as the number one basketballplayer on this team and possibly in the state, unfolds. When Darnellia, a young African-American from a neighborhood across town, walks onto the mostly-white Roosevelt basketball court, it is her journeywe sit and wait for, at the edge of our seats, asshe fights for her rights and for her team. Shebattles enormous personal challenges in agame that means everything to her.

THE HEART OF THE GAME is a voyeuristic look inside this team,at its coach and its players and the transformationsthey all face during those seven years.

THE HEART OF THE GAME is an engaging, dynamic,action-packed documentary, about persistence and about being part of a team. It’s also about choices and how those choices determine one’s future. It’s a film you don’t want to miss.

THE HEART OF THE GAME official website

by Lisa Simmons
150 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #19What! Really, a “G” rated movie that doesn’t haveTigger or a builder named Tom?

CARS hit the ground running, last weekend and it’ssafe to say it will continue rolling along steadilythis summer. With great animation and good wholesomecharacters, this Disney film is a great summer movie picfor the entire family, and you don’t need to havekids to go see it.

It’s about racing after all, the other all-Americansport that comes right in behind baseball, and withPaul Newman playing one of the lead characters, youcan’t go wrong.

I have to say, it did have quite a few similaritiesto a movie with Michael J. Fox that came out someyears ago, but that’s ok, the themes work and thefilm is fun and lighthearted with a strong messagefor kids and adults alike: Don’t get too big-headed,be humble and remember you are not the only one onthe road. Perhaps it should be recommended viewingfor all Boston drivers. Go see it, it’s fun.

CARS official website

144 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #19 Our second shipment of The Official ONE LOVEdvd’s and cd’s are in and available for sale!! Below are commentsfrom audience members at The Color of Film’s Official ONELOVE dvd & cd RELEASE PARTY in March at RCC, where we hadthe co-star of the movie, CHERINE ANDERSON as our special guest:

“Fantastic. I loved it.” “…Thank you for openingthat movie tothe Boston community. It was REALLY good! Hopefully, more quality movies like that will come out of Jamaica and marketed abroad…”

“…a complete experience to come to a publicsetting and see a Black love story that ends on a positive note withsuch talented young people…” “…Better than The HarderThey Come…”

“It was really an immense pleasure to attend the ONELOVE event. I enjoyed watching a bunch of our young,Black people show-casing their talents. Also, I enjoyed the movie, including the young woman from Jamaica who played the lead role…She was wonderful…” “…Proud to be aJamaican tonight.”

The Official ONE LOVE dvd and cd are the first of many quality, independent films and products available toyou, through TCOF. The ONE LOVE dvd is $20 and the soundtrack is $16 by emailing an order to robin@coloroffilm.com or visiting The Color of Filmwebsite.Order ONE LOVE dvd and cd here

156 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #19 RENT, the Broadway musical, returns to Boston for the 6th time, for a three week run, JUNE 6 – 25 with performances Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm, Sunday 7pm and matinees at 2pm on Saturdays and 1pm on Sundays at The Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont Street, Boston. Tickets are $35, $55 and $65 at 1-800-447-7400. Discount tickets for groups of 20 or more at 617-532-1116. Click the cast photo to the right to go to the RENT website.

Boston author K.M. THOMPSON, is on a book signing tour for his newly released, controversial novel, ME & MRS. JONES, inspired by teacher-student scandals:
JUNE 24 Roxbury’s Harlem Bookfair;
For more info click here.

AUDITIONS for THE HUNTINGTON THEATRE COMPANYwill be Friday, JUNE 23 as a non-equity call for understudies for August Wilson’s RADIO GOLF, and two general call days: Monday, AUGUST 7 for Equity members and Tuesday, AUGUST 8 for Non-Equity. Resumes and headshots should be sent to Justin Waldman, Artistic Associate, Huntington Theatre Company, 281 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115

RCC’s RESNIKOFF ART GALLERY presents: Friday, JUNE 23 from 6-8pm the reception for the art exhibit: IMAGINING THE PAST: NEW WORK by ASHLEY BILLINGSLEY;
Paintings by NOELLE NEVOLO will be on display during the month of JULY, with a reception on Sat. JULY 8, 6 – 9pm;
HANDS: Sabriah Ahmad, Jennifer Hughes and Dianne Zimbabawe will be on display in September, with a reception on Sat. SEPTEMBER 9, 2-4pm; The RCC ART GALLERY is located in the lobby of Roxbury Community College’s Media Arts Building. For more info contact rccgallery@hotmail.com

The 2nd Annual Harlem Book Fair – Roxbury, returns to Roxbury Community College on Saturday, JUNE 24. For information call 617-442-4400.

The 8th Annual ROXBURY FILM FESTIVAL , presented by ACT Roxbury and The Color of Film Collaborative, Inc.will be the last weekend in JULY this year, so mark your calendars for JULY 26 – 30, 2006.

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