Broadway audiences were probably not familiar with the term “choreopoem” when “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf” arrived at the Booth Theatre 1976. But Ntozake Shange’s dynamic and revealing series of poems (set to music and movement) was a giant hit, winning a Tony and a Drama Desk Award. “All sorts of people who might never have set foot in a Broadway house—black nationalists, feminist separatists—came to experience Shange’s firebomb of a poem,” remembers Hilton Als, now the theater critic for The New Yorker.
The play went on to be adapted into a TV movie and interpreted in countless regional and amateur productions. Now it’s a major motion picture, with direction and a screenplay by comedy mogul Tyler Perry.
This weekend, the 13th annual African American Women In Cinema Film Festival concludes with an event honoring Shange. “for colored girls” launched a generation of spoken-word and performance artists – and Shange has proved prolific since then, publishing dozens of plays, poetry collections, and other books. She’ll receive the African American Women In Cinema Pioneer Award. The 1982 PBS version of the work, starring Shange, will be shown. I’m particularly curious to hear Shange’s conversation with Felicia Lee of the New York Times: I hope to hear how Shange feels her choreopoem fared in the hands of a filmmaker perhaps most famous for wearing a fat suit and playing “the gun-toting, insult-hurling grandmother” Madea.
Broadway audiences were probably not familiar with the term “choreopoem” when “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf,” hit Broadway 1976. But NtozakeShange’s dynamic and revealing series of monologue poems (set to music and movement) was a giant hit, winning a Tony and a Drama Desk Award. “All sorts of people who might never have set foot in a Broadway house—black nationalists, feminist separatists—came to experience Shange’s firebomb of a poem,” remembers Hilton Als, now the theater critic for The New Yorker.
The play went on to be adapted into a TV movie and countless regional and amateur productions. Now the work has entered a new phase of life as a major motion picture, starring Whoopi Goldberg, PhyliciaRashad, Janet Jackson (among many other greats), and produced by entertainment mogul Tyler Perry.
So it strikes me that this is a particularly fitting time to revisit the source of it all. This weekend, the 13th Annual African American Women In Cinema Film Festival concludes with an event honoring Shange. “for colored girls” launched generation of spoken-word and performance artists – and Shange has proved prolific since then, publishing dozens of plays, poetry collections, and other books. She’ll receive the African American Women In Cinema Pioneer Award – and the 1982 PBS version of the work, starring Shange, will be shown.
But the part of the event I’m most interested to see is the “Conversation with Ntozake” (moderated by Felicia Lee of the New York Times). I hope she’ll share her thoughts of Perry’s adaptation of her work and whether a man can really tell a woman’s story.
Related: Our colleague, WQXR host Terrance McKnight, recently talked with NtozakeShange and vocalist M. Nahadr (who wrote a song for the new film) about whether For Colored Girls is still relevant for the modern African-American woman.
Fast forward 29 years and the Tom Tom Club is releasing a tribute to the tune, it comes out today, and it’s called “Genius of Live.” The album features select tracks from their “Live at the Clubhouse” album along with recent remixes of the song created by lesser known artists like the Latin-fusion band Ozomatli, the electronic dance musician Senor Coconut, and Money Mark — he’s the guy who came up with the familiar keyboard phrase that opens and underpins Beck’s hit “Where It’s At.” Money Mark’s remix of “Genius” was, well, genius. He somehow managed to make it even more uplifting, almost gleeful. He adds random found sounds to his version like snippets of phone rings, a harmonica track and a woman mumbling words in German.
Tom Tom Club’s founding members, the husband and wife team of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, spoke to Studio 360 a few years ago about the artwork of James Rizzi — whose artwork is on the covers of three of their albums. They explain how Rizzi’s cartoonish and colorful drawings match perfectly with the sound and message of their music.
Tom Tom Club Fans were bummed when the band recently had to cancel some tour dates (it’s their first tour in ten years), but TTC is still set to play The Getty in Los Angeles on October the 9th. Check the rest of their tour dates here. Listen to all the “Genius of Love” remixes here.
Earlier this week, Darci Kistler swung by Studio 360 on her way home from rehearsal. A beloved soloist with the New York City Ballet, Kistler was the last principal chosen by ballet giant George Balanchine, before his death in 1983. After a laudable 30-year career, she’ll dance her final performance on June 27th.
Kistler was just fifteen when she joined the NYCB. By seventeen, she was a principal dancer – and she found her meteoric rise exciting. But with colleagues that were many years her senior, Kistler admitted to Kurt that she was often lonely in those early years. She ultimately found love at the NYCB – she told Kurt the story of how Mr. B played matchmaker for her and (now husband) Ballet Master Peter Martins:
We’ll broadcast more of Kurt’s conversation with Darci Kistler in the coming weeks.
— Becky Sullivan
UPDATE: Kurt’s interview with Darci Kistler aired the weekend of June 26th – listen to it here:
Maria Kowroski and Martin Harvey during the overture to Act I of "Carmen" (Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
Choreographed by the outstanding Christopher Wheeldon, these preludes (less than 5 minutes each) transformed the entire experience. Watching New York City Ballet’s Maria Kowroski and West End star of “Dirty Dancing” Martin Harvey interpret the story before each curtain, I understood the passion, the disappointment, and ultimately the violence of that love story as I never could from watching the opera alone.
Here as opera superstar Renee Fleming interviews Christopher Wheeldon on his work with “Carmen”:
Wheeldon wasn’t the only important young choreographer spending time backstage at the Met this season: Dou-Dou Huang created dances for “Les Contes d’Hoffman” and Alexei Ratmansky worked on “Aida.” Those productions are still up. Have you seen one? We’d love to hear how the ballet affected your experience of the opera.
We all know that the Internet has its drawbacks. (Why do I know that Sandra Bullock’s husband cheated on her? Why does a certain relatives think I enjoy videos of kittens?) But its power to aggregate—pulling material from across time and around the world—can still knock your socks off. I stumbled across an example this week: the UK Guardian’s list of 50 greatest arts videos on YouTube.
The list is a couple of years old, but the clips are classics. Madonna’s very un-polished first show at Danceteria in 1982. Vladimir Nabokov and Lionel Trilling discussing Lolita. Stravinsky conducting Firebird. Pollock dripping paint, Nirvana practicing in a garage before they hit. All these things existed before, somewhere; but you’d have spent years of your life hunting them down. In the mountainous slag heap of YouTube, there are plenty of loose diamonds, if you know where to look.
And if you do want to see some kittens, click here.
It’s Friday night, and I’m sweating on the dance floor. Am I at some chic nightclub? Not exactly. Instead of a techno beat, the sounds of fiddles, guitars, recorder, dulcimer, and banjo hang in the air.
Okay, I confess: I love Contra dancing. It’s a rowdy mix of square and line dancing. The constant swapping of partners means you get to meet everyone. The swinging reminds me of the controlled (and uncontrolled) spinning I did as a kid. And nothing else can put a spring in your step like a good jig.
And recently, I’ve upped the ante, getting into English Country Dance — think Netherfield Ball in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Back then, everyone knew the steps to each dance by just hearing the names of the songs or the first few bars of music. These days, a caller gives you instructions as you’re dancing.
In Austen’s time, these dances reinforced rigid hierarchical structure. The top couple was usually the most prominent and richest in the town, and a woman had to wait demurely for a gentleman to ask her to the dance floor. Today, not only do women ask women and men to dance, women can freely dance the male roles. The modern Lizzie Bennet never has to sit one out.
If you’re in New York, Country Dance New York hosts an American Contra Dance this Saturday at 8 pm and an English Country Dance on Tuesday at 7 pm. And maybe I’ll see you on the dance floor!
Next week, Kurt will be speaking to musician, artist, and all-around icon Yoko Ono — she has a new album coming out, “Between My Head and the Sky,” on which she collaborated on with her son Sean Lennon.
Ono’s work (and life) has raised controversy as well as inspired praise. From her participation in the Fluxus movement of the 1960′s, to her recent collaborations with Cat Power and Peaches, Ono (age 76) remains a viable contributor to the contemporary art scene.
It seems that everyone has an opinion about Yoko Ono — if you were in Kurt’s chair, what would you ask her? Add your question below. The interview will air in early October. We’ll let you know if your question makes the cut.
On a different note, we were sad to learn that another pop icon of the 1980′s and 90′s, Patrick Swayze, passed away yesterday. The dancer Rasta Thomas was in Swayze’s 2004 movie “One Last Dance” (his wife, Lisa Niemi, wrote, directed, and co-starred). While the clip below is obviously a tribute to Michael Jackson, I think you’ll see Swayze’s influence in there as well.
Martha Graham. Admit it, you'd be intimidated, too. (Credit: Sam Falk/The New York Times)
Last weekend on the show, we heard from Paulus Berensohn — a sculptor based at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, and a man of strong opinions when it comes to things clay. He believes clay is the source of life on this planet, that there is movement everywhere, and that it’s important to understand both principles when taking on the potter’s wheel.
Turns out, Paulus has been dancing even longer than he’s been sculpting. He was in the first group of dancers to attend The Julliard School in 1951, where he studied with Martha Graham, Jose Limon, and others. But before he could dance for them, he had to audition for one heck of a panel. Paulus was an enthusiastic dancer, but let’s just say he was still a diamond in the rough at this point… but he had a plan. And a cape.
Paulus tells the story in this bit of tape left on the cutting room floor:
We were saddened by the news this morning that Merce Cunningham has died. Cunningham was a giant of American modern dance and choreography – and an astoundingly talented dancer, who started his career dancing for Martha Graham, and appeared in his own company’s performances into his 70s.
We had the good fortune at Studio 360 to interview Cunningham in 2002 about his interest in chance as a principle of composition, and his embrace of computer-aided choreography:
My experience with it is that it is mostly visual–we look. And I thought, “That’s what you do with dance. You look at it.” So it seemed to me they were mated, so to speak. They haven’t gotten along very well yet. But I think there’s a really remarkable future, not immediate by any means, but future for dance with technology. I’m sure of it.
Merce has freed himself from music, he’s freed himself from storyline, from psychological motivation. Modern dance tried to establish long ago that it was nobody’s sleeping beauty, that it was nobody’s divertimento–for instance, in the opera world, when you want to show the inner life of the characters, you’ll suddenly cut away and have a dance sequence. Well, modern dancers said, “No, no, no, we don’t illustrate some other form. We are a primary form.”
Yale Graphic design grad student Ely Kim conducts a 1-man dance off to his 100 fave songs. You won’t hear more than a few bars of each, but you will want watch all 100 (and marvel at all the great art school interiors from printshops to bathroom stalls). Best of all, guests at your future dance parties will thank you for his playlist. (M.I.A. , Technotronic, Yaz, Lil Mama) Watch. Smile. Repeat. BOOMBOX from Ely Kim on Vimeo.