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Tour Blog

Upcoming and Established Talent Abound at the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference

Saturday, Jan. 18: Founder’s Showcase

Sometimes a dance is so perfect that it overshadows everything else on the program. Other work pales in comparison. Such was the case Saturday night at McFarlin Auditorium with not one but two works by Lula Washington, founder and artistic director of the Los Angeles-based Lula Washington Dance Theatre. The works were part of Founders Showcase, presented by The 2014 International Association of Blacks in Dance.

Everything gelled in Washington’s “Ancestral Spirit,” a section of the larger work Random Thoughts. There were the jazz riffs of trumpeter Terrence Blanchard. There were the video images of rippling waves on a blue and green sea. There were the dancers, clad in stark white bathing shorts and filmy dress. Finally, there was the movement, slow, deliberate and rich, creating striking images – often with the three dancers scattered about, with their limbs at dramatically different angles: one pitched forward, one spinning, one stretched out. When joined together, they pulled each other in counterweight so that their limbs were stretched to the limit. Often they swirled like the rippling sea as though part of it while the turbulent music created waves of its own.

Just as fascinating was “Except from African Ukumbusho (African Memories),” a section of Washington’s Ghosts of the Middle Passage. Again, everything gelled. There was Papa Wemba’s stirring Congolese rumba music. There was the midnight blue of the background, and—cutting the stage diagonally in two—a long sheet of white fabric that gracefully fluttered and flapped. There was the dancer, Khilea Douglass, in long white dress, layered so that it billowed in the wind. And finally, the movement. Ms. Douglass stands still, pensive, then more agitated, hands twitching. Then she lets go, sweeping the floor in arching turns. At the end, while spinning fiercely, her face has become a study in anger.

Very different in style but nearly as compelling was Robert Battle’s “We,” performed by Tyler Brown and David Freeland from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater II. It was a study in simplicity. In long purple dress, Ms. Brown stands close to Mr. Freeland, and slowly tilts to his side. With her arms forming long curves, she slowly between Mr. Freeland’s similarly curved arms. This movement is repeated. They fan out for a brief time, simply walking or leaning backward, with one easy fall flat to the floor. It ends just as simply: the two walk side by side, inching backward with their arms relaxed. At the last moment, they offer each other their hands.

Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble’s TARA suggested a modern ritual, with Chloe Grant-Abel at the center of a group of youths in everyday clothes and black socks. Cory Neal’s music begins with what sounds like the beating together of sticks. Ten dancers merge in the center and then fan out to connect as couples. They come and go, with Ms. Grant-Abel rushing in between them. At the end, she brings everyone back together.

Compared to the simplicity of “We,” Helen Picket’s “When Love,” performed by Da’Von Wesley Doane and Ashley Nicole Murphy from Dance Theatre of Harlem, was dense and complex, layering Philip Glass’s pulsating music with text and, finally, a plaintive song. Romantic in true neo-classical ballet style, the music and text gave it an edge, and Ms. Murphy in red slip and pointe shoes captured all the little ins and outs of a complex relationship. (On a side note, Dance Theatre of Harlem will appear at Bass Hall in Fort Worth Jan. 26 and at the Irving Arts Center on Jan. 30.)

Ending the program on a dreamy note was Christopher L. Huggins’ When Dawn Comes, performed by Philadanco. Four drowsy women in pink slips slowly wake to swirl about gracefully. The dream-like mood is broken when four men leap into their space. Soon they come together and dance easily as couples. When sleep finally beckons, the men gently lower the sleepy women to the ground. It was a very pretty affair, with the women particularly charming.

» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine. Thanks For Reading

Mid-Atlantic Tour wins Delaware fans for Lula Washington Dance Theatre

(Above, presenter Patti Grimes tells Lula Washington how pleased she was with the dance concert.)

When Patti Grimes booked Lula Washington Dance Theatre (LWDT) at the Delaware Technical and Community College in Georgetown, Delaware, her goal was to introduce contemporary dance to audiences that had rarely seen this type of dance in her small out-of-the-way community.

Dance was so new to her audience that Patti Grimes asked Lula to come on stage and introduce each dance work — something Lula had not done more than once or twice in 33 years.

Further, Patti told the audience to applaud to let the dancers know when they liked something. Normally, this would be a no-no in sophiscated dance settings. But the approach paid off.

Audience members applauded all through the dance concert and gave a standing ovation at the end. When the concert was over, happy audience members stayed for a lengthy talk-back session with Lula Washington and her dancers.

One tearful woman told Lula she had dreamed of becoming a dancer, but had given up because she never saw a way to make her dream a reality. After seeing the concert and hearing about Lula’s own personal struggles in dance, this woman promised that she would persue her dream to dance.

The concert in Delaware was part of the Lula Washington Dance Theatre’s 2013 Mid-Atlantic dance tour, which involved 9 different sites. Patti Grimes’ Joshua Freeman Foundation presented the performance.

Lula and her dancers left Delaware with new friends and a warm invitation from Patti to come back and perform again. She told Lula that she had made her audience excited about seeing dance, and in doing so, helped Patti achieve her own dreams for her community.

–Erwin Washington

Elizabeth Eckford of Little Rock Nine Attends Lula Washington Dance Theatre Concert at Grand Prairie Center in Stuttgart, Arkansas Jan. 31, 2013

Elizabeth Eckford, one of the original Little Rock Nine, was on hand January 31 at Stuttgart, Arkansas’ Grand Prairie Center when Lula Washington Dance Theatre performed its dance suite about the nine high school students who integrated Central High School in 1957.

Afterwards, Ms. Eckford came up on stage and hugged Khilea Douglass, the dancer who portrayed Ms. Eckford’s historic solo walk through an angry mob of protesters who cursed her, spit at her, threatened her life, and urged her to go back to Africa instead of into Central High.

“Ms. Eckford came up to me afterwards and hugged me and told me how much she loved my performance. She said I understood what she went through that day. I was so moved,” said Douglass. “I was standing in the face of history.”

Elizabeth Eckford took photos with the dance company and told Lula that the performance was so moving that it brought back all the memories from 1957.

Khilea said dancing the Eckford role in Lula’s work was a difficult challenge.

“That dance had the fewest choreographed steps of any dance I have ever done, but, it was also the most intense dance I have ever done,” recalls Khilea. “I had to make the audience feel what Elizabeth must have felt that day, the fear, but also the courage to keep going. I had to make them see and feel the crowd and the risk she was taking. It is a powerful dance. Lula’s work gives me those kinds of challenges – which I love. And for Ms. Eckford to be there in person — it was amazing.”

Elizabeth Eckford was among a large group of people with deep roots in the civil rights movement who attended the dance company’s concert near Little Rock. The concert helped to raise money for a current-day cause in Little Rock – the renovation of the formerly segregated Holman Elementary School so that it can be reopened as the Holman Heritage Community Center — a place where local youth would gain exposure to a variety of services including training in the arts.

The effort is being led by local organizer Calvin Criner, of Little Rock. He was responsible for Ms. Eckford attending the concert. Others in the audience included leaders of the Little Rock Nine Museum in Little Rock; and the daughter of Minnie Jean Brown, another of the original nine.

The performance and tie in with the Holmon Center was the brainchild of Amanda Holstead, director of the Grand Prairie Center. She knew that Lula herself was born outside Little Rock in Englund, Arkansas and she knew that Guy Couch at the University of Arkansas at Conway, had commissioned Lula to create the Little Rock Nine work back in 2007 for the 50th anniversary of the Central High events.

She knew also that Lula was going to be in Memphis at the Orpheum Theater at the end of January. Since Memphis is only two hours from Stuttgart, she invited the dance company to extend its trip for the concert at the Grand Prairie Center.

This is an example of a presenter/theater director making something special happen in their community.

—-ERWIN WASHINGTON, Co-founder, Executive Director,
Lula Washington Dance Theatre

Lula tours in California with Irvine Foundation funds

The Lula Washington Dance Theatre (LWDT) will tour 10 cities throughout California with a three-year grant from the James Irvine Foundation. The funding subsidizes LWDT’s concert fees for selected engagements. LWDT is ready to add more dates to its schedule. The Irvine Foundation engagements include:

July 21 – Allensworth Universal Family Fair, Allensworth, CA
Jul 28 – Fontana Arts Festival, Fontana, CA
Aug 11 – San Jose Jazz Festival, San Jose, CA
Sept 25 – City of Fontana, CA
Sept. 29 – UC Merced, Merced, CA
Oct 3 – 5 – Folsom State College, Folsom, CA
Nov 6 – 9 – Arts for the Schools, Truckee, CA

Jan 18 – 19 – Temecula Theatre, Temecula, CA
Feb. 6 – Gallo Center, Modesto, CA
March 14 & 15 – California State University Chico, Chico, CA

LWDT gets 9-city Mid-Atlantic Tour

Lula Washington Dance Theatre (LWDT) will tour to a host of east coast communities in Spring 2013 thanks to funding from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation. Each Mid-Atlantic tour engagement will include public concerts, educational performances and community outreach. The Company also has other tour dates in the Spring, including the remainder of our James Irvine Foundation California engagements, and return trips to the South. Our Spring 2013 tour is as follows:

Jan. 18 – 19 – Old Town Temecula Theatre, Temecula, CA
Jan. 21 – 26 – Galvin Fine Arts Center & St. Ambrose College, Davenport, IA
Jan. 27 – 29 – Orpheum Theatre, Memphis, TN
Jan. 30 – 31 – Grand Prairie Center, Stuttgart, AR
Feb. 11-13 – Live at Rose Lehrman, Harrisburg Community College, Harrisburg, PA.
Feb. 15-16 – Montgomery County Community College, Blue Bell, PA.
Feb. 19 – Slippery Rock University, Slippery Rock, PA.
Feb. 20 – Butler County Comm. College, Butler, PA.
Feb. 22-24 – Allentown Symphony, Allentown, PA.
Feb. 26-27 – Freeman Stage at Bayside, Selbyville, DE.
March 1-2 – Reading Area Community College, Reading, PA.
March 5-6 – Frostburg State University, Frostburg, MD.
March 7-8 -Blackrock Center for the Arts, Germantown, MD.
March 14 – 15 – California State University, Chico, Chico, CA
April 9 – Gallo Center, Modesto, CA
April 13 – L.A. Dance Festival
Aug. 10 – Ford Amphitheater (shared show with Complexions)
Nov. 15 – McCallum Theater, Palm Desert

Lula participates in LA Dance Festival

The Lula Washington Dance Theatre performed in the 2012 LA Dance Festival at the Diavolo space in downtown Los Angeles. The company performed Lula’s “For Those Who Live and Die For Us.” It celebrates the soldiers – men and women – who risk their lives for their country.

The festival was produced by Diavolo Dance Theater and Brockus Project Dance Company April 14 & 15. It offered an opportunity to see an array of local contemporary modern dance companies all in one place. The program was impressive. Los Angeles has some excellent dance companies — many of them floating below the radar.

It was good to take part in this event. Our dance company has focused more on touring in recent years. Now, we selectively take opportunities to perform at local festivals and events that are produced by other people. It gives us a chance to show local audiences Lula’s tour repertory more often.

Documentary Premiere: Movement With A Meaning

“Movement With A Meaning”, producer Jim Crum’s documentary film about the Lula Washington Dance Theatre, will have its world premiere at the 15th annual “Dances With Films Festival” on Friday June 1, at 2:45 pm at the Chinese 6 Theaters in Hollywood.

Festival producers described the documentary as: ”A unique, behind the scenes look at Los Angeles’ Lula Washington Dance Theatre (LWDT) – the leading African American dance company west of the Mississippi – and their staging of a ballet piece based on the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem “We Wear the Mask,” a stinging indictment of the Stepin Fetchit roles African Americans were forced to play in order to “get by.” “Known worldwide through their international performances, everything Lula Washington and her company stands for comes together in their production of “We Wore the Mask.”

Jim Crum, an award-winning documentary film producer, followed Lula Washington for six months as she rehearsed “We Wore The Mask”, for the dance company’s 30th anniversary season. Crum, who had just retired from CBS, undertook the project as a labor of love after seeing the dance company in concert and being deeply moved.

Film festival producers selected “Movement With A Meaning” from almost 1,500 submissions. The Chinese theater is located on the 3rd floor of the Hollywood and Highland Complex, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood CA 90028. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the theater or online at the Dances With Film website: www.danceswithfilms.com/slate_movementwmeaning.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre will next perform “We Wore The Mask” for Dance St. Louis’s Spring To Dance Festival on Friday, May 24 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center. It will also be performed on Saturday, May 25 at the Edison Theater in Saint Louis as part of the Black Dance USA Festival.

LWDT heading to San Jose Jazz Festival

The Lula Washington Dance Theatre (LWDT) has been invited to perform at the San Jose Jazz Festival in 2012 with music by drummer Marcus L. Miller and sax player Kamasi Washington.

The dance company performs on Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012, at 1 pm. It will be the first time the dance company has appeared in an exclusively jazz festival outside of Los Angeles.

LWDT danced at the Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival in 2010 with trumpet player Terrence Blanchard (photo above). Lula Washington choreographed to Blanchard’s “Choices” CD using a mix of locked-in contemporary choreography with African-dance style improvisation to Blanchard’s fiery jazz trumpet sounds.

For the San Jose Jazz Festival, LWDT will bring Marcus L. Miller with his Freedom Jazz Movement band; and Kamasi Washington with his group, The Next Step. Each band will play alone and with the dancers. The two bands share Kamasi and some of the other musicians.

The dance company will perform Lula Washington’s Spontaneous Combustion, which LWDT toured to 12 cities in China in 2011. Other works include Lula’s “We Wore The Mask”; Tamica Washington-Miller’s “Beautiful Venus And Serena”; and her work, “In The Garden”.

Lula is considering reviving her work, “Om”, which is set to music by John Coltrane; and a 2001 work set to McCoy Tyner’s “Flyin In The Wind.” The two bands will collaborate on the Coltrane and Tyner songs.

Spring Touring Follows Kwanzaa Success

Following Kwanzaa, LWDT launches into 2012 with a series of local concerts and national tours. The big question for 2012 is, how will we top our 2011 Kwanzaa concert and where will we hold it? With our growing audience, we may need a bigger space or more performances so we can serve more people. It’s a good problem to have to start the year.

Highlights for the first half of 2012 include a performance Jan. 28 in Toronto, Canada for the International Association of Blacks In Dance conference. Lula Washington Dance Theatre will perform the all male trio from Lula’s work, “The Healers”. LWDT hosted the conference in 2011 in Los Angeles.

LWDT returns to UCLA for the 12th straight year Feb. 17 with Lula’s “Reflections In Black” concert in Royce Hall. The performance is presented free of charge to school children through UCLA’s Design For Sharing program.

LWDT makes its debut Saturday, Feb. 18, at 7:30 pm at Oxnard Community College in Ventura, CA to launch the first formal public concert of the year. A member of Oxnard College’s Administration saw Lula Washington’s “Global Village” at the Ford last year and worked to bring LWDT to the campus.

After Oxnard, LWDT heads south for concerts at Fayettville State College in North Carolina; the Carolina Theater in Durham, NC; the Buckman Theater in Memphis, TN; and the Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center in Elizabethtown, KY. This year LWDT returns to the Virginia Arts Festival in Norfolk, and performs in St. Louis for the Spring To Dance Festival; and for Black Dance USA.

Kwanzaa! 2011 Tickets on Sale Now

Tickets are on sale for the Lula Washington Dance Theatre’s 2011 Kwanzaa concert Thursday and Friday, Dec. 29 & 30, at 7 pm at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90016.

Lula Washington’s high-octane Harambee Suite is the centerpiece of this performance. It involves a mass of children and professional dancers performing to a fiery array of African drummers. LWDT children and youth dancers will perform their perennial favorite: “Taratibu”, which teaches positive messages for youth people as part of the dancing. The youth will also sing (and move) to the Quincy Jones jazz version of Handel’s Messiah.
The Thursday concert will highlight Oprah Winfrey singing discovery, Abraham McDonald and drummer Marcus L. Miller with Freedom Jazz Movement. LWDT’s associate director, Tamica Washington-Miller, will premiere “Message To My Peeps”, which investigate issues facing youth worldwide.
LWDT’s dancers will be joined in the Friday performance by blues singer Barbara Morrison who has written a song especially for the event. Saxophone star Kamasi Washington will perform his signature jazz works; and Lula Washington will present “For Those Who Live and Die For Us” as a tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen, several of whom planned to attend. Lula Washington will also present her “Global Village”, which was described by one critic as: “absolutely riveting…awesome and colorful…sheer boundlessness across the stage.”
Tickets are on sale at the LWDT studio, 3773 Crenshaw Blvd., LA, CA 90016. Box offices: 323-292-5852. Tickets are $40 for general audiences and $25 for students and seniors. Groups of 10 or more get 10% off the General ticket price. VIP seats are $100 each. They support LWDT’s youth dance scholarship program, founded by donor Beulah Frankel. VIP ticket holders attend a 6 pm nightly VIP Reception.