Kay Bourne Arts Report – Issue #38

May 5th, 2007  |  Published in Kay Bourne Arts Report


by Kay Bourne
(Pictured: Valerie Stephens and band live at the Piano Factory)

333 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #38Vocalist Valerie Stephens gave a full house at the Gallery at the Piano Craft Building a sensational night of all Nina Simone songs, Friday, APRIL 27. She ascended the pianist/singer’s peaks of lyricism, and at other times Stephens got down with the fury of a Nina Simone outraged by the cruelties and injustice of racist America.

Stephens recently was tapped as Best Blues Singer by the Urban Music Awards, however, on this night she was as comfortable with Bess’s confessional “Porgy,” a jazz classic from Gershwin, as with the Bessie Smith standard “Sugar in My Bowl.”

Simone was very much the griot as amply evidenced in original compositions such as “Four Women.” And Stephens, who is also an eloquent storyteller, was in her element with the powerful lyrics that etch portraits of four black women. Their skin tones vary from black to yellow, to tan, to brown, but their societal inflicted pain and anger (and also their personal strength) binds them together as sisters, as does Stephens’ interpretation binds her to Nina Simone.

There were lighthearted moments too, as when Stephens sang the bubbly “My Baby Just Cares For Me” as exquisitely as Bobby Short at the Carlyle.

In May of 1964, very close to Lorraine Hansberry‘s death from cancer at age 34, the playwright gave a speech to the winners of an essay contest run by the United Negro College Fund. She encouraged them, you who are “young, gifted, and black,” to write about the world as it is and as they wished it to become. Some five years later Nina Simone, a close friend of the author, wrote the song that black youth have taken to their hearts as an anthem of possibilities, “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black.” Appropriately, Stephens sang the beloved song holding her infant niece Jade Simone (named in part for Nina Simone).

What a rare night in annals of Boston jazz! Valerie was magnificently accompanied by Yoron Israel on drums, Lenny Bradford on bass, Vicente LeBron on percussion, and the maestro Frank Wilkins, who had done many of the arrangements, at the piano and directing the music. Stephens produced the night which has already been booked for the CMAC Summer Outdoor Concert Series.

by Kay Bourne
(click book cover image to the left, for more info)

336 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #38 When Susan Batson was starring in a drama bound for Broadway (and getting rave notices), the role was taken away from her. Batson, now a celebrated acting coach, writes about the traumatic experience in her excellent handbook on acting, “TRUTH/ Personas, Needs, And Flaws In The Art Of Building Actors And Creating Characters” (Rugged Land, 2007).

One of Batson‘s famous students Nicole Kidman, who credits work with Batson as instrumental in her Oscar winning performance in “The Hours,” has written the introduction. Of special interest to Bostonians, is that Batson grew up in Roxbury, the daughter of Ruth Batson, a fiery activist in the school desegregation movement and, later, a member of a successful take over of a local major TV station.

Batson lost the leading role in Arthur Miller’s “The Creation of the World and Other Business” to the producer’s wife, Zoe Caldwell. Robert Whitehead, the producer, came to Batson‘s dressing room a few days into the play’s engagement at the Kennedy Center accompanied by the playwright. As Batson remembers the conversation, Whitehead said, “Susan, Zoe would like to play the part of Eve. We’ve decided that she’ll be the lead and you’ll be her understudy. Isn’t that wonderful.”

Batson recalls feeling sensations of outrage and anger, loss of dignity, disappointment and helplessness. She has turned the horrid moment into a memory aid for her acting, what she calls her ‘Place of Defeat’ exercise. “I associate those things with that tiny dressing room and the hallway leading to it backstage at the Kennedy Center. Those sensations are as strong now as they were then.”

Batson‘s acting handbook, which is written in a highly entertaining manner, describes the many actor’s exercises she uses to good effect and teaches her students to use. Her first acting lessons were at Boston Children’s Theater.

You don’t have to be an actor to enjoy reading “Truth” but actors who do read it will likely benefit by its advice on how to strengthen their craft. Batson, a member of the Actor’s Studio, has been recognized with a New York Drama Critics Award, an LA Drama Critics Award, and an Obie. Her acting studio, Black Nexxus is based in New York and LA.

Black Nexxus website

by Lisa Simmons
(pictured: Victoria Lopez Willingham, age 5, Mildred Kennedy Bradic Recital at John Hancock Hall, circa 1961)

337 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #38 KBAR’s one and only Arts Editor extraordinaire. Kay Bourne, is giving a discussion on Thursday, MAY 10 at Roxbury Center for Arts at Hibernian Hall as part of the ACT Roxbury Discussion Series. The reception begins at 5:30pm until 6:45pm with the presentation starting at 7pm.

An absolute encyclopedia of who, what, where, and when, Kay has been compiling information about the cultural riches of African-American artists in Boston over the centuries and has formulated the information into specific talks such as this one entitled, “Roxbury Dancers and Dance Studios Over the Years”. In addition, dance demonstrations by hoofer Cyrus Brooks, who has been featured in Dance Magazine and a number of other publications, will bring Kay’s discussion to life with choreography.

African Americans in Boston have an incredible dance, theater and music history, much of it centered in the Roxbury area. Kay’s discussion will begin with life in Colonial Boston and continue through discussions of the Minstrel shows and on to discussions of ballet, Broadway and Television.

This event is free and open to the public.

Roxbury Center for Arts at Hibernian Hall website

by © 2007 Josiah Crowley
334 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #38 “Home is where you go when there’s no place left to go.” Barbara Stanwyck in the Clifford Odets-scripted CLASH BY NIGHT

But what if you’ve never had a home? Or – in the case of actress Victoria Rowell, a ward of the state of Maine for the first eighteen years of her life – many homes, with constant changes of location, schools, classmates, always a new woman to call “Ma”, with “brothers” and “sisters” that one will live with for two, maybe three years before being uprooted only to start over, repeating that process again & again? How, then, does one find one’s own “home”, as it were – discover one’s place in life – or even find attractive any sort of stability after spending one’s formative years in constant flux?

HINT: “Feeling sorry for myself was not an option”, writes Rowell in this powerhouse memoir, “The Women Who Raised Me” (William Morrow) – certainly the best-written memoir, celebrity or otherwise, in many a season: at turns stark, uplifting, disturbing, heartbreaking, but always beautifully written with prose that sings the blues of Billie Holiday and soars like the inspirationals of Gospel music, all the while displaying the solid common sense Rowell is well known for in her personal life.

“I was born with no prenatal care and and in quarantine because my mother Dorothy was so ill and filthy,” writes Rowell of her birth to a schizophrenic woman who was too sick to clean herself, let alone her apartment or five older children when Rowell was born in Portland, Maine in 1959. At five days old, Rowell was turned over to her first foster mother. After two and a half years, Rowell was removed from that home – just as Bertha Taylor was attempting to adopt her: the state of Maine didn’t allow adoption of a Black child (Rowell is biracial) by a white family. Also, her birth mother’s sister, a wealthy, powerful white woman, wanted to make sure none of her sister’s “n—–” children had any comfort in life. Years later, as her sister was dying, Lillian Rowell refused to answer the door to allow the 23-year-old Victoria – who had travelled from New York City – into her house to say goodbye to her birth mother. When Vicki crashed her mother’s funeral – after being informed by the funeral director “You are not on the list” and hanging up on the dead woman’s daughter – Lillian glared at her throughout the service.

This memoir is truly original in its format. Part history lesson, part personal memoir – not only does Rowell tell her story, but she details the adoption/ foster laws of Maine and Massachusetts: the inherent racism – some discreet, some overt – as well as presenting the stories of the beautiful, generous, nurturing women who raised her, all the while including historical context in those stories. Considering the dire circumstances of the foster care system, Vicki was truly blessed. And she is the first to acknowledge this.

Known nationally from her award-winning, long-term roles on both primetime (eight years on DIAGNOSIS: MURDER) and daytime TV (seventeen years as Druscilla on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLES), Rowell is also highly respected for the work she has done for foster children. In 1990, she founded The Rowell Foster Children’s Positive Plan, which – among other things – provides ballet scholarships to foster children throughout Maine and Massachusetts. On May 6, she will receive an Honorary Degree from Pine Manor College.

Rowell‘s humanitarian works is her extension of the generosity she was shown as a foster child. The talented young Vicki received a scholarship to The Cambridge School of Ballet, which initially brought her to the Boston area, where she spent many years. Later, Rowell would receive additional scholarships, including The Dance Theatre of Harlem and The American Ballet School. She went on to dance with American Ballet Theatre ll, among other venues. Rowell also writes about working for Elma Lewis, who employed Rowell as a dance teacher in the early 1980′s.

Rowell first arrived in the Boston area in the late ’60′s. Her portrait of Harvard Square at that time is as fascinating: the ballet school, catering to African-American children throughout the area, was burned down after much protest from “liberal” Cambridge residents, many of whom didn’t want African-American children in their backyard (they were supportive of a dance school for African-American children, but couldn’t it be “across the river” in “their own neighborhoods” of Roxbury and Dorchester?). Rowell‘s recollection of the 1970′s Boston busing crisis is also original in that it’s told from a Black teenager’s point of view.

Overall, Rowell‘s book is a powerful demonstration of what the support – sometimes of virtual strangers – can do to form a child’s future, as we view the girl’s evolvement:

Her early “ear-splitting cries” as the young girl was removed from one foster home into another. (“I lost three fathers in less than three years.”) The 7-year-old’s reaction to meeting her mentally ill birth mother (“This ravaged person could not be my mother”). The child’s loneliness (“Every time I saw a Black man, I wondered ‘Is that my daddy?’ ” – a man she would never meet). The child’s self-esteem (“The undercurrent of thinking there was something wrong with being a foster child”). Life lessons learned from dance (“For those gifted with the spirit of the true dance, it is a lifetime of giving.”)

Rowell, ever grateful for the women who took her into their homes, learned through their love – and from her experience in the worlds of dance and acting – lessons in her life that not only helped her survive and grow, but now are extended – via The Rowell Foster Children’s Plan – to foster children throughout Maine and Massachusetts. For eighteen years, Rowell was – literally, legally – “a daughter of Maine”. Which is perfect when one realizes Maine’s motto: “I lead.”

Rowell has, indeed, been gifted with the “spirit of true dance” as she assists countless numbers of children all alone in the world with the chance to soar. The state of Maine should build a shrine to this lady.

NOTE: On Monday, MAY 7, from 7 – 9 pm, Victoria Rowell will discuss and after, sign copies of her memoir THE WOMEN WHO RAISED ME at the Boston University location of Barnes & Noble in Kenmore Square.

Victoria Rowell’s official website

by Victoria Willingham
338 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #38 If you are an avid Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater follower, you wait patiently for April to arrive for their performances here in Boston. You know to expect to see something that you have seen before and you anticipate what might be new. You are never disappointed regardless of what you see. Their execution of form and sassy non-traditional mixed in with tradition will always delight the non-dancers and bring the dancers to their feet.

The simplicity of the stage set keeps your attention on the dancers and you watch with wide-open excitement on what they are going to do next. The women leap through the air, the men catch them, and you wonder how their timing can be so exact. How many times they have practiced a move to be sure to get it right. You look and you say, they are good. One would expect to see the flexibility of the women but are just as impressed to see that the men have that flexibility too. They work well together and when they have solo parts you see what makes each of them shine. Each compliments the other and they work well to be a true Company.

“Revelations” is always welcome and now life has come from “The River.” The music of Duke Ellington in this rendition develops the birth and you see and feel it growing. Through the subtle shades of blue and the flowing chiffon material in their costumes you can see the rising of the river. In addition, “The Golden Section”, this is where the sass came in. This had a whimsical feel and the dancers put a little play in their performance, delightful and up beat.

For the four nights that they come to Boston, if I could, I’d see every performance.

Alvin Ailey official website

335 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #38 MAY 24, marks the opening of the second production of the new Roxbury Crossroads Theatre with the production of “The Trial of One Short-Sighted Black Woman vs. MammyLouise and Safreeta Mae” a play by Karani Marcia Leslie.

Ed Bullins, is the founder and Artistic Director of Roxbury Crossroads Theatre that had it’s debut performance with “The Black Arts Showcase” featuring plays of Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka and Ed Bullins.

“The Trial”, directed by Jacqui Parker, is a provocative play that takes a look at negative images of African American women in the media. The main character, Victoria, has brought suit against two of the icons of the Jim Crow era–women who, by virtue of their mere persistence in contemporary culture, are holding her back. “The Trial” features performances by : Kortney Adams, Anich D’Jae, Cristian DeJesus, Talaya Freeman, Jeff Gill, Valencia Hughes-Imani, Valerie Lee, and Marvelyn McFarlane.

Running MAY 24 through JUNE 10 at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont Street, Boston. Showtimes and ticket information from Boston Theatre Scene 617-933-8600. Roxbury Crossroads Theatre official website

by © 2007 Josiah Crowley
339 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #38 In 1968, Oscar-winning actor Anthony Hopkins (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) made his film debut as Jack The Lionhearted in THE LION IN WINTER. Katharine Hepburn played his mother, Eleanor of Acquitane. Nearly 25 years later – after the character of Hannibal Lecter made him a bona fide movie star – Hopkins was asked how he created the cannibal character. Among other things, Hopkins revealed that for the voice of Hannibal, he “used my Katharine Hepburn imitation”.

In his current thriller FRACTURE – a crackerjack thriller, much better than the third rate thriller I was expecting, Hopkins seems to be conjuring up the spirit of Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates or any number of Christopher Lee‘s vampiric roles in the old Hammer Films.

Directed by Gregory Hoblit (8 MILES), FRACTURE certainly isn’t the great film that his earlier PRIMAL FEAR (which made Edward Norton, in his film debut as the devious killer, a star.) But it’s a polished, well-crafted story that may not keep you up at night, but will more than hold your interest.

Hopkins‘ character discovers his wife is cheating on him; he kills her, confesses to police, then represents himself in court. A manipulative, clever man, he goes face to face with a young prosecutor played by Ryan Gosling (recently Oscar-nominated for a bravura turn as the addicted teacher in HALF NELSON).

As these characters go for each other’s throat, the fun of the movie is seeing two terrific actors – each one a top actor of their respective generations – show what skilled talents can do with less than inspired material. Though not a bad script, FRACTUREis predictable and rote. Hopkins and Gosling bring it up several notches and provide a fun night at the movies. FRACTURE official website

(photo credit: Paul Kolnik)
340 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #38 CHITA RIVERA: The Dancer’s Life” – Celebrating a Career on the Boards. Tony Award-winner and Broadway superstar Chita Rivera relives her magnificent career in The Dancer’s Life. See this living legend work her magic at Boston’s Colonial Theater Through Sunday, MAY 13.Tickets on sale now from Ticketmaster at 617-931-2787.

The Theater Offensive presents “SURVIVING THE NIAN” by Melissa Li and Abe Rybeck until MAY 5 at Roberts Studio Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston. For ticket information call 617-933-8600.

FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER is participating in FREE COMIC BOOK DAY, Saturday, MAY 5…Twentieth Century Fox will be giving away Fantastic Four mini one sheets with key art to the first 100 customers at participating stores across the country, including Newbury Comics and New England Comics. To find a participating store in your area, click here.

Wheelock Family Theatre presents “WINNIE-THE-POOH” until May 13 with a visit to the 100 acre woods with Christopher Robin, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabit Kanga, Roo and Tigger too! Especially exciting for little ones under 8 years old. Tickets are $23 – $15. For full schedule and ticket information call the Box Office at 617-879-2300.

ACT Roxbury continues its Roxbury Discussion Series on Thursday, May 10, with “ROXBURY DANCERS AND DANCE STUDIOS OVER THE YEARS”, a talk and slide show presentation by Kay Bourne, featuring dance demonstrations by Cyrus Brooks. Some names that will be discussed: Ethel Covan, Marla Blakely, Danny Sloan, & Mildred Kenn. This event is free and open to the public, at Roxbury Center for Arts at Hibernian Hall, 184 Dudley Street. Reception at 5:30pm Discussion at 7pm.

“CITY SPOTLIGHTS EVENT” is a free cultural performance celebrating Chinatown, Dorchester, East Boston and Mattapan performing arts groups and individual performers, such as: Gianni DiMarco (Boston Ballet); Giles Li, Gund Kwok Women’s Lion & Dragon Dance Troupe (Chinatown); A Major Dance Company, Sofia Snow (Dorchester); Colombian Dance Company (BAJUCOL), XCuadron 574 (East Boston); Stajez Dance Company, Mattahunt All Star Steppers (Mattapan), on Friday, MAY 11, 6:30pm at Citi Performing Arts Center, Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont Street, downtown Boston. The event is free, but you must reserve tickets in advance, by calling 617-532-1265.

The Museum of Fine Arts Film Program is proud to present a 5-show engagement of Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam‘s feature film, “Dreaming Lhasa”, until MAY 20. This gripping film first screened at the MFA as part of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in January. This narrative film looks deeply into both Tibet’s past, present, and future. Tickets are $8 for MFA members, senior citizens and students, and $9 for general public. Call the MFA Box Office at 617-369-3306 for information.

DONAL FOX: MASHUPS IN BLUE For one night only, Friday, MAY 18. for two shows: 7:30 PM and 10:00 PM. “Fox’s band has the Modern Jazz Quartet’s poise and John Coltrane Quartet’s power.” –The Boston Globe. Featuring Donal Fox on Piano, Warren Wolf on Vibraphone, John Lockwood on Bass and Terri Lyne Carrington on Drums at The Ragattabar at The Charles Hotel in Cambridge. Call 617 395-7757 or click here .

Afro-pop Diva, ANGELIQUE KIDJO of Benin performs at Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, on Saturday, MAY 19 at 8pm. For tickets and information call World Music at (617) 876-4275 or Click here for information.

Megatron and Shallow, co-presidents of Something Different, Inc. and co-founders of Boston’s legendary Floorlords dance crew invite you to Something Different, Inc.’s “UNITY & RESPECT 2″, a weekend Hip-Hop dance battle extravaganza featuring worldwide talent and cash prizes, on MAY 26 & 27 noon to 10 pm at the Charlestown Community Center; It will be positive event, raising awareness of non-violence by encouraging an extended network of new friends for all and taking the battle from the streets to the dance floor. Tickets are $25 a day or $40 for both days.

“Unique Lives & Experiences” are pleased to present Dr. MAYA ANGELOU at the Boston Opera House Thursday, MAY 31 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $29.95 – $79.95 and can be purchased by calling Ticketmaster at 617-931-2787.

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