“Stormy Weather” with La Dunham & friends at the Museum of Modern Art

dunham moma smallAmong the under-projected classics screening April 18 – 26 at the Museum of Modern Art for Making Faces on Film: A Collaboration with BFI Black Star is the 1943 all-star extravaganza “Stormy Weather,” featuring Lena Horne and Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson (above), Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Dooley Wilson, the tap-flying Nicholas Brothers, Katherine Dunham and her Troupe, and just about every other major African-American performer of the epoch. Directed by Andrew L. Stone, the movie was meant to help the recruiting effort among African-Americans. The MoMA mini-festival celebrates the legacy of African-American artists working both within and outside the mainstream film industry. Image: Film Study Center Special Collections, The Museum of Modern Art.

 

From the Archives: Dunham La Grande

By Donald McKayle & Francis Mason
Copyright 2006 Donald McKayle & Francis Mason

First published on the Dance Insider on May 23, 2006, on the occasion of Katherine Dunham’s death. From the DI Archives of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading dance critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2016, plus five years of the Jill Johnston Letter and trail-blazing reporting and commentary on the leading dance news of the era. Want more? You can purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $99 (institutions) Purchase by March 22, 2017 and receive a second, free copy for the recipient of your choice. Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .

As a young teen growing up in New York City, I first came across Katherine Dunham while walking through the Broadway theater district perusing the posters and billboards of attractions at the various theaters. At the Belasco I was captured by the picture of a striking woman dancing in a gossamer dress. Katherine Dunham and her troupe of dancers, musicians, and singers were performing in Bal Negre. I purchased a balcony seat for $4.80 and went up to see a performance that would change my life and mark the beginning of my career in dance. Over the past ten years we have met and discussed several projects. Miss Dunham was a powerful force and I will always be indebted to her brilliance as an artist, a scholar, and an humanitarian. — Donald McKayle

I shall never forget Katherine Dunham in “Cabin in the Sky,” the musical Balanchine staged in New York in 1940. The devilish stunning Dunham and her dancing alongside the holier-than-thou radiance of Ethel Waters set the world on fire. When I interviewed her in 1990 with Dawn Lille for my book “I Remember Balanchine,” Dunham recalled how Balanchine came to Chicago to see her and her girls and invited them to come to New York to be in the musical. She recalled how she worked with Balanchine, how he loved her girls and how at the try-out in Boston she was censored for her bare navel in the Egyptian ballet. Her husband put a yellow diamond in her navel and the show went on. Dunham also recalled that after the show opened in New York Balanchine and the composer of “Cabin in the Sky,” Vernon Duke, used to come to her place all the time. Once they brought Stravinsky. Balanchine persuaded Stravinsky to compose a tango for her, which he did. He autographed it. “I’ve never done it,” she said, “I keep thinking I must find it. I don’t think anyone has done it.” — Francis Mason

“West Side” on East Side

west-side-story-smallAmong the emblematic films being screened for Making Faces: Images of Exploitation and Empowerment in Cinema, running through April 30 at the Museum of Modern Art: “West Side Story,” 1961. Directed by Jerome Robbins (American, 1918 – 1998) and Robert Wise (American, 1914 – 2005). Distributed by United Artists. Film Study Center Special Collections, The Museum of Modern Art. Above: Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn.

Flash Flashback: ‘Everything’ and the (Pet Shop) Boys — The ‘Incredible’ destiny of Javier De Frutos with H.C. Andersen

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A scene from Javier De Frutos’s new “The Most Incredible Thing,” with an original score by the Pet Shop Boys. Gavin Evans photo courtesy Sadler’s Wells.

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2011, 2017 Josephine Leask

LONDON — “The Most Incredible Thing,” seen in its premiere earlier this Spring at Sadler’s Wells, was a big event in the city’s dance calendar, attracting more anticipatory press coverage than any other dance happening since the local screening of “The Black Swan.” Pop stars, an infamous choreographer, a fairy-tale, phenomenal dancers and extravagant designs were some of its winning ingredients. Set to an evening-length score by the pop duo the Pet Shop Boys, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, who were inspired to make a work based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the same name, “The Most Incredible Thing” centers on nothing less than the power of art to stand up to human destruction.

Tennant and Lowe’s composition is based on their distinctive electronic dance music, here performed by a full orchestra, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. Direction and choreography is by Javier de Frutos, an inspired choice by ‘The Boys’ and a marriage made it heaven — at least so it appeared from the strength of the collaboration. De Frutos has made a welcome comeback to Sadler’s Wells after having been reviled by some dance critics and spectators for his controversial piece “Eternal Damnation to Sancho and Sanchez,” performed as part of “In the Spirit of Diaghilev” at Sadler’s Wells in October 2009. That work, a response to the inventive and flamboyant scenarios and designs of Jean Cocteau, depicted a fictional pope who raped and molested alter boys and raped a pregnant nun. While it was not the first De Frutos work to feature sex and violence, it was so intentionally over the top that while some spectators and critics took offense, others raved about it. However, de Frutos received death threats and a lot of negative press, the final rejection coming from the BBC, which cancelled plans to broadcast de Frutos’s work during Christmas on a program with three other choreographers.

To receive the rest of the article, first published on June 2, 2011, subscribers can contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) and receive full access to our Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check or in Euros. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $129 (institutions) Purchase before February 14, 2017 and receive a second, free copy for the recipient of your choice. Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .

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As Jean Cocteau demonstrated — by having the same actor morph from the Beast into the Prince in his 1946 film version of the fairy tale, both adroitly and equally embodied by Cocteau’s muse Jean Marais — “The Beauty and the Beast” is as much about the beheld as the beholder, and her power to see and perceive beyond appearances. Jeanne Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s eternal tale of spiritual clairvoyance and connivance gets another reading starting tomorrow night at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art from NYC nouveau cabaret legend Julie Atlas Muz and her real-life partner London cabaret and side-show artist Mat Fraser. (And who unfortunately do not credit de Beaumont, at least in the MoCA press release. Creative sources matter; the phantasmagorical wasn’t born with Julie Atlas Muz.) Joined by a pair of marionettists from the UK theater company Improbable, they draw on song, dance, puppetry, shadow-play, and custom-made prosthetic arms for Fraser (born with phocomelia). Directed by Phelim McDermott, the show is also performed December 4, 8, and 11. A “relaxed performance” December 9 will, according to the PR, foster “a welcoming environment for people with learning disabilities and/or sensory communication impairments,” as pertains to “noise and movement in the seating area” and with “modified house lighting and sound.” The artists will lead a workshop on December 10, and Fraser will take part in a free discussion on sexuality in the disabled community on December 11. Bronwen Sharp photo courtesy Chicago MoCA.