Category Archives: Uncategorized

B-Girls Take Control on Ms. blog

Photo of b-girl Rokafella from Laly Haine

Ana “Rokafella” Garcia-Dionisio remembers glass on the floor and piss in the staircases of the 1970s Harlem and Bronx apartments where she grew up. “You had to be tough to survive,” she says.

It was at that moment in the Bronx when we witnessed the birth of hip-hop. From the sparks of hardship, struggle and adversity, an entire underground culture emerged, encompassing music, dance, art and style. And while hip-hop’s men have received most of the attention, women such as Rokafella have been there since the beginning, contributing to every facet of the revolutionary art form.

Rokafella was one of the first women to get a reputation as a “b-girl,” or break-dancer. B-boys and b-girls were named by pioneering hip-hop DJs Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa, who, at Bronx parties in the 1970s, extended break beats in their sets specifically for dancers. Breaking was later declared one of the four pillars of hip-hop, along with rapping, D.J.-ing and graffiti writing.

Rokafella earned her name by going up against the guys. She learned to spin around on her back …

Read full article on Ms. blog

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B-boy Roxrite on LAWeekly.com

B-boy Roxrite

Two days after Thanksgiving Day 2011, hardcore b-boy fans poured into Moscow’s Nikulin Circus for the annual Red Bull BC One Championship. The event is one of the largest and best-known international competitions, tagging itself the “Official Breakdance World Championship.” Sixteen of the world’s top b-boys traded rounds of headspins, power moves and freezes in front of an amped crowd of 2,000. Just when it appeared as if Lil G from Venezuela might take the title, or last year’s champion, Neguin of Brazil, a surprise but repeat contender popped up to take home the trophy.

California native Roxrite, aka Omar Delgado, who splits his time between Los Angeles and San Diego, proved to be the best b-boy in the world that night. It had been a long road to victory. After being beaten in the finals of Red Bull BC One in 2007 and 2008 — and not being invited back for the next three years — Roxrite had a lot to be happy about.

To read my entire article on LAWeekly.com, click here

Civic Virtue: Watts Here and Now

Though I was born and raised in Los Angeles, I had never seen the Watts Towers, or what amount to 17 steel-and-mortar sculptures created from 1921 to 1954, prior to this Saturday. (For more information on Watts Towers and its creator Simon Rodia, watch “I Build the Tower.”) The extra incentive for my first viewing was a string of events sponsored by Pacific Standard Time, in conjunction with Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery and Watts Towers Arts Center, starting with an unveiling at 10 a.m. of several O’ Speak, Speak 2 works in the Garden Studio at Watts Towers Arts Center, and ending with a reception for the exhibit, curated by Willie Middlebrook, at 5 p.m. at Cecil Fergerson Gallery at Watts Labor Community Action Committee. Both installments of O’ Speak, Speak 2 honor five women artists: AfraShe Asungi, Margaret Garcia, Noni Olabisi, Toni Love and Dominique Moody.

Curator Willie Middlebrook/All photos by Willlie Robert Middlebrook 3rd

While roaming around the Garden Studio, I was lucky to meet Middlebrook’s son, Willie Robert 3rd. He took me on a brief tour of the studio garden (below).

He also shared with me how he and his father had transported the women’s art pieces from their studios to the gallery and garden (pictures below).

Toni Love

Margaret Garcia

Dominique Moody

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other events over the course of the day at the Watts Towers Arts Center were Short Stories from the Watts Writers’ Workshop and “The Early Days In Watts,” Reflections and Remembrances with Kamau Daáood Ojenke, Wanda Coleman, Otis O’Solomon and Erin Aubrey Kaplan.

At 2 p.m., Barbara Morrison, a 30-year jazz and blues veteran, serenaded a motley, spirited crowd in darkness on the stage of the WLCAC Bradley Multi Purpose Center (aka senior center). Being in a wheelchair didn’t stop her from getting people up from their seats to do the Electric Slide. Here Barbara sing:

I didn’t stay for the reception at Cecil Fergerson Gallery, but I could tell the night was only going to get more interesting. Starting around the same time as Morrison’s performance, hundreds of punk-styled Latino youth were being dropped off for an outdoor concert right next door to the gallery. A mosh pit was in full force by 3 p.m. That two disparate worlds can exist so closely to each other midday is part of L.A.’s unique charm.

Garden Studio works remain until Feb. 12. WLCAC Cecil Fergerson Gallery exhibition closes March 16.

Forever Flamenco

Ricardo Chavez / photo by Bruce Bisenz, courtesy of Fountain Theatre

Sitting a few rows back from the stage at Barnsdall Gallery Theatre watching the Fountain Theatre’s monthly showcase of “Forever Flamenco!” this past Sunday, I was reminded of krump dancing. Let me explain. Since September I have been attending a krump session — a circle of dancers who congregate every Wednesday at midnight in a parking lot in North Hollywood — observing a style of dance that has its roots in South Central Los Angeles. If you saw Dave LaChapelle’s 2005 documentary Rize, you know what I’m talking about. If not, what brought me back to the after-hours dancing at the parking lot was the foot stomping (obviously), but more overwhelmingly, the emotional release the dancers wear on their faces and exhibit in their movements.

Without knowing much about flamenco, I have gleaned enough to offer that the histories of the people who created both art forms are similar in enough ways to inspire movement of such emotional magnitude. Both African Americans and Gypsies are historically oppressed groups of people who have expressed their experience via their bodies. Every foot slam, hand clap and outstretch of an arm delivers you to a different memory. The feelings that overcome you may not be the same ones the dancers express, but they serve the same purpose: They make you feel alive and connect you with humanity.

A flamenco show is an all-over-body experience. The dancers’ faces contort with feeling, their arms gracefully strike controlled poses in the air, and their feet pound the stage like tap dancers. Even the costumes — with ruffles, wraps, polka dots, lace, hot pink flowers and long trains — get in on the dramatic action. Illuminating it all is the music, which preceded the dance.

Singer Jesus Montoya’s classically scruffy, aching, heart-wrenching vocals powered the night of flamenco. Accompanied by guitarist Juan Antonio Gomez and percussionist Gerardo Morales, the trio had a jolly good time throughout the performances, laughing and calling out to the dancers and each other. It was almost as if Montoya were trying to get the dancers to crack a smile.

But that’s one of the beauties of a flamenco show — the audience and band interaction. (Another wonder is the constant hand clapping, which seems to be an unspoken code I can’t figure out.) Not only do the musicians yell out encouraging words (most often, “Olé!”); audience members yell out snippets in Spanish whenever it strikes their fancy. After an especially emotional stomp, or long and fast footwork set, the audience and musicians erupt with pleasure.

The climax of the night came after Lakshmi Basile finished her solo, “Fondo del Mar (Depth of the Ocean) Solea.” Her performance appeared cathartic — for her and the audience — as if there were no end to her emotional release, or ours. Just when you thought a flamenco dancer has finished a performance, they rev back up for a little bit more. Basile’s exertion was so complete, one of her clips went flying out of her hair. Olé!

While at times the Barnsdall Gallery stage was swirling with somber, it was mostly a festive atmosphere. Ricardo Chavez, the long male dancer, looked like he stepped out of the pages of GQ. I wasn’t surprised to hear that the woman sitting behind me takes his class in Santa Ana.

At the end of the night, the performers invited anyone who wished to come up on stage and dance in a circle they had formed. Much like the krump session I attend weekly, this is a space that encourages improvisation and freestyle, where the dancers share moves and challenge and inspire each other. I’ve seen this done at tap shows too, and this spirit exemplifies dance communities at their best.

For more information about the next “Forever Flamenco!” show, visit fountaintheatre.com.

Story on Culture Spot LA

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Krumper Manny Fernandez Was Hit by a Car

I wrote up a Know Your L.A. Hip-Hop Dances blog for L.A. Weekly about Manny Fernandez, a krump dancer who was hit by a car, leaving him with a concussion and broken left leg. He returned to the 818 Session three months later.

Popping in LA Weekly

My latest Know Your L.A. Hip-Hop Dances blog in LA Weekly on popping.

‘Fela!’ at the Ahmanson Theatre

Paulette Ivory and Sahr Ngaujah in "Fela!" / photo by Raymond Hagans

About three-quarters of the way in, the musical “Fela!” delivers the emotional impact of a bellyflop. It’s the all-too-familiar horror story heard around the world: Big guys take advantage of little ones. Woman raped, man beaten, man killed, woman harassed and intimidated. It could be Laos, Lagos or Los Angeles. The rich and powerful bully the poor, weak and politically dissident. In the case of “Fela!,” now playing through Jan. 22 at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre, terror reigns down on Afrobreat legend and activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, played by Sahr Ngaujah (Adesola Osakalumi is his alternate), his followers and fans in his home of Lagos, Nigeria, for standing up to the powers-that-be for freedom from corruption.

Fela’s acts of protest on behalf of his country, and all of Africa, threatened the legitimacy of the region’s oppressive military rule. He was jailed more than 200 times, and his mother Funmilayo (Melanie Marshall), also an activist, died from injuries suffered after being thrown from a second-story window. Interwoven throughout the exuberant African dance numbers and provocative catalogue of Fela’s popular grooves is the story of Fela’s political struggle, which rears its head in today’s Occupy movement. Heart wrenching and inspiring, his uprising enlivens the audience with the spirit of social justice.

Ahmanson audiences are led to believe they are sitting inside The Shrine, a nightclub in Lagos, Nigeria, in the late ’70s. It’s Fela’s last performance, and as he runs through his favorite songs, he chats with the crowd, shares his life story and rants about political malfeasance. The audience, at times, is commanded to shout out, sing along, and get up and dance. “Leave your shy outside,” Ngaujah orders, and adds, “Find your own groove wherever you are.”

Fela was determined to find his own voice through music; he traveled to London, New York and Los Angeles collecting sparks of inspiration, yet always returning to Lagos. The Tony Award-winning musical takes us on a tour of select parts of Fela’s life. “Drum is the pulse of the world,” he states. In “B.I.D. (Breaking It Down),” he and his dancers demonstrate the music-body-emotion connection. Fela transports us to different parts of the world as he discovers and creates his Afrobeat sound. He explains that he set out to “marry high-life to cool to jazz,” when, in an epiphanic moment, he meets an American named Sandra (Paulette Ivory), who introduces him to Black Power Man. The American political movement would influence his life’s work in Lagos.

“Fela!” is brave in its implications of the bad guys, from IMF and WTO to Halliburton and AIG. The book by Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones alludes to exploitation at the hands of huge multinational corporations, and also chronicles specific instances by the Nigerian government. Ngaujah, who steps into Fela’s shoes magnificently, is cutting and clever when he calls out companies/governments for “419,” the Nigerian penal code for fraud, and explains that the colonial powers take/took “petroleum, diamonds and people” from Nigeria and give/gave “gonorrhea and Jesus.” Fela was opposed to colonial rule, but also to that of his own corrupt government, and those like his all over Africa. “Colonial mentality is a hard thing to break,” Fela laments; in his eyes, the Nigerian government seems to have perpetuated some of the same crimes. Lewis and Jones are bold in underscoring the continuing corruption into our current times.

What makes “Fela!” even more genius is that the creative team — which includes co-conceiver Stephen Hendel and Aaron Johnson and Jordan McLean who wrote additional music (Carlos Moore wrote the authorized biography Fela: This Bitch of a Life on which the musical is based.) — surrounds this larger narrative with entrancing African dance sequences and concert performances that keep the audience spellbound. Colorfully costumed in what appears to be traditional African style, the dancers pull off the most sensual moves as if they were easy as pie. This is one of the ultimate gifts a dancer can give an audience: making the movements look simple while having fun. Playful, often with attitude, and brimming with erotic confidence, the dancers move together, and alone, to the rhythms of Djembe drummer Rasaan-Elijah “Talu” Green and the entire onstage band. Their hips shake, sometimes faster than imaginable, their backs arch and spring forward, their arms and legs stretch, their knees bend, booties pulsing to the beat. If Jones’ choreography anchors “Fela!” in magnificence, the singing pulls it to the heavens. Ngaujah breathes new life into Fela’s own music when he performs it.

“Fela!” asks thought-provoking, rabble-rousing questions. Is Fela, or people like him, a nationalist or terrorist? In the final scene, “B.Y.O.C. (Bring Your Own Coffin)” the ensemble follows Fela’s lead in placing his mother’s coffin on the steps of the capitol. They carry small, wooden coffins with words on each one, such as “Rodney King” and “Sudan.” The last two coffins read “doubt” and “fear.” As Ngaujah told me five days before Los Angeles’ opening night, “What we are offering with our story is the highlight of having the courage to face your fears. If people have that, you can see a lot of things improved.”

Fela declares “music is the weapon,” and, as is the case for many arts activists, it appears to be an extremely effective one.

Article on Culture Spot LA

Pennington Dance Group and Yorke Dance Project

A scene from “Overlay,” Pennington Dance Group and York Dance Project’s collaboration in “Across Connections” / photo courtesy of Pennington

John Pennington began Saturday night’s show, “Across Connections” at ARC Pasadena, by introducing the dances in the program as nonlinear and without narrative. He was only partly correct. The statement appeared to be true for his company’s piece, “Yield of Vision,” and “Overlay,” its collaboration with the United Kingdom’s Yorke Dance Project. But from “City Limitless,” Yorke’s presentation, peeking out between the steps was a story, not of the traditional kind, but of joyful rebellion, stylish pursuit and self-discovery in the beats and words of American cultural icons. While Los Angeles-based Pennington Dance Group played with sounds and lights, creating delightful chaos, Yorke pushed their scenes along to a score of Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker and the poetic ramblings of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.

From its opening scene featuring a duet with two men, to the swinging couples whirling around the stage, “City Limitless” spoke of the Beat Generation, On the Road and a time of youthful political leaning and social expression. Dressed in plaid and khakis, the attractive British cast interpreted a spirit in mid-20th-century American history that was bursting with cultural rebellion and possibility. Exciting and energetic, the dancers embodied this zeitgeist as sweetly as their flirty glances and playful embraces.

Pennington Dance Group’s “Yield of Vision” was a tad more brave new world-ish. In tight, silvery and sparkly costumes and makeup, the dancers stared at lights, turned them on and off and flitted around to the rapid ticking of a stopwatch. True to the night’s introduction, nothing made too much sense, without too much of a stretch, except maybe when Yvette Wulff floated on stage in what could be imagined as a spaceship outfit, and landed. It was soloist Li Chang Rothermich though, dancing alone and with Michael Szanyi, who told the most riveting tales with her compact frame, freezes and flexibility. Her face showed little emotion as she sped around with cold precision, yet Rothermich received a very warm reception.

Both artistic directors Pennington and Yolande Yorke-Edgell, who met as dancers in the Lewitzky Dance Company and have since maintained a long-distance working relationship, hope the program’s last piece, “Overlay,” is a first of what will be many collaborations. Existing in different places, the companies’ combined work lacked connection, between themselves and the audience. Each group performed in separate spaces, coming together at times, without clicking. It’s tricky figuring out how to make long-distance relationships work.

Article on Culture Spot LA

Tecnologia Filosofica

Italian dance group Tecnologia Filosofica

Every aspect of Tecnologia Filosofica’s Friday night performance felt surreal, from the venue – Theatre Raymond Kabbaz, which is attached to Le Lycée Français de Los Angeles – to the absence of English and the musical presence of a duo that resembled a tacky Las Vegas nightclub act. It was as if the price of admission bought you a ticket to another country. Flashing with European artistic sensibilities, “Canzoni del Secondo Piano” left many (Americans) in the audience amused and mystified. One thing was (pretty) clear: The quirky, nonlinear performance highlighted the happenings on the second floor of an apartment complex.

For more than one hour, Turin, Italy’s Tecnologia Filosofica accented the ordinary, making the particularities of living in cramped quarters relatable to all who have experienced it. Without words, the two female and three male dancers conveyed what it is like to flirt and socialize with, bump into, and feel crowded by neighbors, but also, in the midst of it all, feel totally alone. Welcome to the ups and downs of apartment dwelling.

Many of the show’s scenes were odd — perhaps because the irony was French and Italian, as were the songs accompanying each piece, and Americans aren’t always on the same humor page. Yet that didn’t stop the audience from thoroughly enjoying the kookiness on stage. One female, Francesca Cinalli, swung an apple on a string, trying to take a bite. She wore a yellow dress from which her nipple often poked out. Another woman, Elena Valente, clamped a celery stalk between her lips. Both ladies seemed to be longing for love, and not getting it from any of the males, who were engaged in what looked like a friendly game of Twister. When one of the male dancers, a playboy-ish Renato Cravero, finally took notice, he and the celery stalk-ing woman joined together, entangled in an absurd display of lovemaking.

Even more bizarre were the singer, Francesca Brizzolara, dressed in fishnets, black knee-high boots, a miniskirt, and a leopard-print coat with two rollers in her disheveled hair, and the musician, Paolo de Santis, a tad more flashy with black leather pants, a black-and-white-print button-down, and a cheesy mustache. The two seemed plucked right out of a dive bar in any down-on-its-luck town, making funny faces and even sillier gestures to the crowd and into a video camera in front of them. She sang in French and Italian, while he tickled computer keys and played a kazoo.

The most precious part about “Canzoni del Secondo Piano” was how unprecious it was. The piece celebrated average bodies and everyday senses of rhythm. Some people like to move. Some are really good at it. These dancers did not perform anything amazing or near impossible. Instead, they had fun playing with beats and moving in unconventional ways. That makes them dancers. For Americans, who have become used to viewing spectacles and feats of grandeur, it’s refreshing to see people making a dance out of everyday life.

Article Posted on Culture Spot LA

From Lagos to LA, Sahr Ngaujah Plays Fela!

Cast of "Fela!" / Photo by Tristram Kenton

Wow. I saw “Fela!” last night at the opening in Los Angeles. But before I did, I interviewed Sahr Ngaujah, who portrays Afrobeat legend and political activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, and has since the show’s 2008 Off-Broadway debut, and LA Stage Times published the article. The show was amazing as was Sahr. Stay tuned for my review, which will be posted shortly.