This past week, the University of California, Irvine, Etude Ensemble paid tribute to Donald McKayle, with a performance of Journey of the Heart: A Celebration of Works by Donald McKayle. The renowned choreographer created the student performance group in 1995 when he was an active professor in the dance program. The tribute included audience favorites, Death and Eros (2000), Crossing the Rubicon (2017) and Songs of the Disinherited (1972).
Renee Robinson and Troy Powell in Donald McKayle's Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder
It’s Paul Taylor month! Not only is he featured in our March issue’s history column, but the Paul Taylor American Modern Dance’s Lincoln Center season begins on March 15. What better way to get into the Taylor spirit than to learn repertory that will be included in the company’s 2016 season?
Next Sunday, March 13, PTAMD and the American Dance Legacy Initiative will conduct a workshop on Donald McKayle’s “Rainbow Etude,” at the Taylor Studios in NYC. “Rainbow Etude” is a distilled version of McKayle’s larger work Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder, which will be performed at Lincoln Center on March 22, 24, and 26 by guest artists Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. The workshop includes class, a lecture demonstration and a screening of excerpts from a documentary about the piece.
Donald McKayle (DT, December 2003) is a choreographer and former member of the New Dance Group. His 1959 work Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder, about a prison chain gang, is regarded by many as his masterpiece.
Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder
Photos from top: by Roy Volkmann, courtesy of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; by Andy Snow, courtesy of Paul Taylor's American Modern Dance
Lurching slowly forward, a homeless woman appears from the wing with her body hunched and arms extended. With ambient street sounds as the score, she traverses the stage, crawling, reaching and heaving her body. Periodically, she turns to stare at the audience. Inspired by the art of Käthe Kollwitz and a childhood memory of a poverty-stricken woman scavenging, Eve Gentry's solo, Tenant of the Street, conveys a distinct perspective about economic inequality.
This work was created in 1938 under the auspices of the New Dance Group, a modern dance collective founded six years before. It conveys the NDG's ethos but also resonates in today's political and economic climate. So much so that the Martha Graham Dance Company included it in its 2010 concert “Dance Is a Weapon." “The young artform of modern dance was empowered and validated by its alignment with political and social issues of the day," says Janet Eilber, artistic director of the MGDC. “And the NDG was really in the center of that. They were leading the charge."
Pearl Eileen Primus (1919–1994) was an ambassador of African dance and the African experience in the Caribbean and United States. Her Trinidadian heritage, combined with extensive studies in the Caribbean, Africa and the American South, became the lens through which she taught and choreographed. Confronting stereotypes and prejudice through movement, she advocated dance as a means of uniting people against discrimination. “When I dance, I am dancing as a human being, but a human being who has African roots," she declared of her work.