Dance is more than an artistic display of the physical prowess that lies within the human form. For many of those who attended the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater opening night gala benefit at New York City Center, dance is a catalyst to exploring new possibilities. On the red carpet, veteran actress and Harlemite, S. Epatha Merkerson, revealed that she was once a former dance student and that the experience helped her find limitless potential in the arts.
That door to exploration that dance helped open has led Merkerson to produce and direct her first documentary film, The Contradictions of Fair Hope, which she is now shopping to festivals and distributors. Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg the film traces the development, struggles, contributions and gradual loss of tradition of one of the last remaining African American benevolent societies, known as “The Fair Hope Benevolent Society” in Uniontown, Alabama. “The documentary tells you how it got from that place of nobility to what it is and what happens when you forget your history,” she says.
Inside the event, the evening was all about celebrating the present as Artist Director Robert Battle debuted the new season with a performance of Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. Grammy Award-winning opera star, Jessye Norman and Tony Award-winners Brian Stokes Mitchell and Anika Noni Rose led a finale of Alvin Ailey’s masterwork, Revelations with live music.
Opening one’s eyes to new visions is the goal behind the latest exhibition, 10 Squared, which is currently on view at the LeRoy Neiman Art Center in Harlem. As the organization’s program director/curator, Omo Misha explains, the work features artists from all communities and mediums presenting affordable works on 10”x10” blank surfaces. “I wanted this to be an opportunity for artists to express their views on whatever they feel passionate about for the collective universal voice of art.”
Also seeking to bridge gaps between global communities is the Rush Arts Gallery exhibition, I Dreamed My People Were Calling. Curated by Danny Simmons, the exhibition, seeks to tie together the ancestral and contemporary forms of artisans of African descent through the dynamic works of Imo Imeh, Sol Sax, and Margaret Rose Vendryes. Simmons expressed that he hopes the show will eliminate romanticized notions of Africa. “All this work is created in the image of Africa but for African-Americans it’s a romanticized view of Africa. I wanted to take an artists’ take on what Africa means to us all. For me it’s a spiritual heritage that ties me back to a long history of art making and community and the cradle of human begins.”
Similarly seeking to encourage unity is the book, Everybody Paddles, a collection short stories and memoirs that stresses the importance of teamwork in family, community and work environments. Author, Charles A. Archer celebrated the release with a private party at Pranna, coordinated by Bee Season Consulting and God-is Rivera of 319 Public Relations. Archer hopes that the book leads to a social movement of change. “This is a call to the end hostiles, rich vs. poor and find common ground to work together,” he says. “If we partner better and collaborate better we can do those audacious things we want to do.”
One of the more touching stories in the book is by senior editor for Juicy Magazine, Taiia Smart Young where she describes how her mother has been instrumental to her success in media. Young notes that the concept of paddling begins in the home. “I feel like sometimes parents can be dream killers. If a child says I want to do something then parents need to find a way to make it possible,” she advises. “My mother knew nothing about writing as a career but she was the first person who taught me to paddle and gave me that push.”
While the organization WAT-AAH!, does not hand out paddles, they do provide water and healthy lifestyle tips. The company which is the first premium line water free of sugar, calories and additives for kids by kids recently produced a benefit event, 1 Act, Give Back, Feel Good in partnership with DoSomething.Org. The event, which was also in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, collected canned goods to benefit The Food Bank For New York City.
During the event, WAT-AAH!, Founder/CEO, Rose Cameron shared her passion for empowering children to be responsible for their own health. “When a mother talks to a kid they don’t listen to you. So we determined the best way to do is let the kids rule and let them define the branding of the company.” Thus far the approach is working as WAT-AAH!, has major partners including First Lady Michelle Obama’s, Let’s Move initiative.
Be sure that you move on over to the following events this week including: Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Nutcracker Sunday Matinee; the opening of VISIONS, Art and Matter at La Maison d’Art; and From Cover to Cover: 20 Years of African Voices.
Correction: In last week’s column the name of Drumma Boy’s company was incorrectly listed. The actual name is Drum Squad DJ’s.
The Harlem Arts Alliance is a not for profit arts service organization celebrating 10 years of service to a prestigious list of members such as the Apollo Theater, the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, Columbia University, Harlem Stage (Aaron Davis Hall) and over 850 more cultural/arts institutions and individuals. The weekly column, Harlem Arts Alliance Presents: On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture and entertainment scene in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of event/media content production company, Souleo Enterprises, LLC.