Out of all of the art forms, ballet is typically one that is not controversial, and the American Ballet Theatre productions are usually rather traditional in nature. However, the recent production of Shakespeare’s Othello is a striking departure from the status quo.
The American Ballet Theatre cast a Brazilian dancer, Marcelo Gomes, in the lead role, and Gomes wears dark brown makeup to try to match his skin tone to the moor who describes sin as being “black as mine own face,” much to the chagrin of attendees.
Actor Robert Manning, Jr., penned a letter** to the American Theatre, Lincoln Center, and the Metropolitan Opera condemning the production; he left after the first act, felt it was a “Jim Crow production,” and “will never attend another ABT production and…will encourage anyone…to follow suit.”
Unfortunately, this is not the first time in recent history that a dancer has used dark brown makeup for the role of Othello; for example, in 2002, the San Francisco Ballet used dark makeup on Cyril Pierre. And in the American Ballet’s Theatre 2007 production, Gomes used the same dark brown makeup.
One would think the American Ballet Theatre would pay a bit more attention to this indignity, as one of their soloists, Misty Copeland (the first African American soloist in two decades), has been not only incredibly vocal about race and the importance of diversity in the ballet world, but has been seen everywhere from commercials for Dr. Pepper and Under Armour to the cover of Time magazine, which has helped to bring new audiences to see her perform.
Since Othello’s race is so central to the story, why not cast a dancer whose complexion more closely resembles what Shakespeare envisioned? It is not as though there is a dearth of dancers who could not bring the passion, grace, masculinity, and commanding qualities needed in this role; Desmond Richardson, Antonio Douthit-Boyd, and Vernard Gilmore are dancers who come to mind almost immediately.
The American Ballet Theatre missed an opportunity to cast a talented Black dancer in the role of Othello. The organization cannot encourage Copeland to raise the visibility of its ballet productions on one hand yet simultaneously ignore the legions of diverse audiences who are beginning to take note of ballet on the other. It is a grave disservice to fans of Shakespeare and ballet alike.
**Read Manning’s letter in it’s entirety below:
May 21, 2015
Robert Manning, Jr.
RE: Actor in “brown-face”
Dear American Ballet Theatre (ABT), Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center,
Being African-American and living in this country, I am often confronted with racial insensitivity in my every day life. I have even come to expect it in certain situations which is an unfortunate feeling to experience every day. But I never, and I mean never, thought I would experience this feeling at the ABT production of Othello at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City!
I am a professional actor and not only am I an experienced theatre performer, but also an experienced theatre goer. I am very open-minded. I love theatre of all genres and even recently relocated back to New York City from Los Angeles because of my love for theatre. I’m giving you this background so you understand that for me to express my level of disgust for your recent production of Othello will not be possible in this letter. Because of this, I hope you will sit down with me and attempt to explain to me, in person, why you believed it was a remotely good idea to not only cast Othello with a light-skinned Brazilian ballet dancer, BUT to also paint his face BROWN! I sat in that audience on Tuesday anticipating a lovely evening with my wife at the ballet. Othello is one of my favorite plays and I was looking forward to experiencing the ballet version. I was not looking forward to being insulted. I was not looking forward to a Jim Crow production of Othello in 2015. I left after the first act and I will never attend another ABT production for the rest of my life and I will encourage anyone I know to follow suit.
What genius thought your production of Othello should feature an actor that doesn’t look remotely African? Was there a point trying to be made I missed? And since this is not the first time you’ve done this, according to the New York Times 2007 review of your previous production that says that Marcelo Gomes is “painted a striking bronze with body makeup”; what genius thought this was a good idea AGAIN?! And please understand my problem with this casting choice. It says he’s a Moor in the text! It says he has “thick-lips”! “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise!”
Arise! Arise and contact me so you can explain why you chose to do a production of Othello with an actor in “brown face.” And just in case you think dark brown makeup is less offensive than dark black makeup, it’s not. And who is in the production photo on your website?
Robert Manning, Jr.
Alvin Ailey Dancers Perform to Beyonce’s ‘Freedom’
Harry Belafonte once said, “Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are civilization’s anchor. We are the compass for humanity’s conscience.”
This past year we’ve seen a multitude of artists from every field, be those gatekeepers of truth. In films like the upcoming, powerful “Birth Of A Nation,” or in music with Beyonce’s unapologetically black Lemonade album, to game-changing Broadway shows like Hamilton, Shuffle Along and Eclipsed, it’s no secret black artistry went to a whole new level.
So what do we do then when our nation is at its most intense, chaotic state? Like many, art is the first thought. Whether it be poetry, music, dance, spoken work, theater, photography -our art allows us to express ourselves wholeheartedly without restrictions.
At least that’s what Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company member and choreographer Sean Aaron Carmon and fellow Alvin Ailey dancers did. Last week they took social media by storm, with their powerful one-minute choreographed dance to Beyonce’s “Freedom.”
A dance the NYTimes deems as a protest dance, Carmon and Co. pour their hearts and souls into every synchronized movement they make, even in the improvised solos where dancers were given free reign to express whatever they were feeling.
Carmon told dancers “I don’t have to tell you a single thing about what you should do. We all know what’s going on in our country. We all have our visceral responses to it. I’m going to put the music on. Give me everything you have.”
They gave everything and then some.Check out the video below.
FREEDOM, FREEDOM, I CAN’T MOVE. FREEDOM, CUT ME LOOSE! FREEDOM, FREEDOM, WHERE ARE YOU?! CAUSE [WE] NEED FREEDOM, TOO! ・・・ Choreography by #ALVINAILEY dancer Sean Aaron Carmon @hookedonsean; featuring Ailey dancers @collintheshots2 @courtesy_ofhtwn @jagreen711 @yannicklebrun @constancestamatiou @thedanielharder @sfigg_udigg @jacquelinh @danfreaka @chlvrmntro @jerms83 @cherrysunblush Elisa Clark, Belen Pererya, Kanji Segawa and Fana Tesfagiorgis ・・・ Music by @beyonce feat. @kendricklamar
Misty Copeland to Dance in Disney’s The Nuctracker Film
American Ballet Theatre principle dancer Misty Copeland will join the cast of Disney’s live action film The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. She’ll portray the leading ballerina role in the only dance sequence in the movie.
Lasse Hallström directs the project, based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, also the basis for the Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky ballet we all know and love.
Last summer, Copeland leaped onto the map when ABT promoted her to principle dancer, becoming the first Black woman in the 76-year history to hold the title.
Last Fall she made her Broadway debut in the Tony-nominated revival On the Town for select performances. This week, she prepares to dance Romeo & Juliet at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia.
It appears Copeland has a lot to look forward to within the next year. She launched her first dancewear line, Égal Dance. New Line has found screenwriter Gregory Howard (“Remember the Titans”) to adapt her memoir, “Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” into a film. As reported by Deadline last year, she’s teamed up with writer Tracy Oliver to develop a Fox series set in the world of dance.
A documentary about her life, “A Ballerina’s Tale” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2015.
Cynthia Erivo Croons, Misty Copeland Amazes
Because it’s not like she has anything better to do than to continuously astound and astonish us.
Sorry, but Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo singing “Summertime” (a capella, damn it!) from Porgy & Bess accompanying American Ballet Theatre principle dancer Misty Copeland?
May I propose a brand new musical that involves only Misty Copeland dancing onstage, meanwhile Cynthia Erivo accompanies her a capella? Two groundbreaking women, both who’ve made history in her respective New York theatrical scenes, musical theatre and ballet, in the same show? Count me in.
Naturally, Copeland will need a break from the ABT, and Cynthia Erivo will eventually have to leave The Color Purple. And with open schedules and thirsty fans, this could make some producer’s pocketbook quite happy.
The mini-collaboration comes courtesy of Cosmopolitan magazine, who interviewed Copeland for their August 2016 issue. In the featured article, she talks about her rising career, her dancewear line, and Prince.
Last summer, Copeland leaped onto the map when ABT promoted her to principle dancer, becoming the first Black woman in the 76-history to hold the title. In the fall, she’d make her Broadway debut in the Tony-nominated revival of On the Town for select performances. This week, she’ll dance Romeo & Juliet at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia.
Broadway producers out there, I hope you’re watching, reading, and formulating something. Because as Erivo says, “different forms of art collide to create one,” just as it always should. #BlackGirlMagic is real.
Visit American Ballet Theatre for tickets and subscription info.
The Color Purple currently plays at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.
Savion Glover & Shuffle Along Cast Show Out On Maya & Marty!
Tony Award-winning choreographer Savion Glover and the Broadway cast of Shuffle Along made an appearance on the premiere of NBC’s brand new variety show “Maya & Marty” starring “Saturday Night Live’s” Maya Rudolph and Tony winner Martin Short, in their first live televised performance.
With suitcases in hand and accompanied by no music, the ensemble cast of thirteen closed the premiere with the “Pennsylvania Graveyard Shuffle,” midway through joined by Glover, the musical’s choreographer.
The six-episode series, taped from Studio 6A in NBC’s headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in front of a studio audience, features a set of comedy sketches, celebrity guests, musical numbers, and a spectacular onstage band led by Charlie Rosen.
Among the other guests of the May 31st premiere were “SNL’s” Kenan Thompson, Tom Hanks, Larry David, with a performance by Miley Cyrus.
Based on the original 1921 musical revue, this new ten-time Tony-nominated production, billed as Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, is directed by George C. Wolfe.
This adaptation stars Tony winners Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Billy Porter, and focuses on the original composers’, Eubie Blake (played by Brandon Victor Dixon) and Noble Sissle (Joshua Henry), challenges in creating the production as well as their trials and tribulations in later years.
This year, Shuffle Along received the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical.
McDonald will take a maternity leave of absence at the end of July, and Rhiannon Giddens, in her first appearance on Broadway, will be her replacement in the role of Lottie Gee. Glover will also join the cast during Giddens’ run.
Glover recently appeared on NBC’s “Late Night: Seth Meyers.”
“Maya & Marty” is a spin-off of Rudolph’s original variety show pilot, “The Maya Rudolph Show” which aired in 2014, but wasn’t picked up for a series.
“Maya & Marty” airs Tuesdays at 10 PM ET on NBC.
For tickets to Shuffle Along.
Cast of Shuffle Along, Hamilton Earn Astaire Awards Nominations
Nominations for the 2016 Fred and Adele Astaire Awards, which honor outstanding dance and choreography on stage and film, were announced today at the Friar’s Club. For the first time, the Fred and Adele Astaire Awards have explored recognizing excellence in dance, movement, and choreography off-Broadway. The gala takes place Monday, May 16, 2016 at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (566 LaGuardia Place).
Tap sensation Shuffle Along leads the pack with 6, very well deserved might I add, nominations. Also it’s wonderful to see Broadway Black favorite, Invisible Thread get some love too! Check out the nominees below:
BEST FEMALE DANCER
Mara Davi, Dames at Sea
Deanna Doyle, Tuck Everlasting
Sandra Mae Frank, Spring Awakening
Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me
Eloise Kropp, Dames at Sea
Ana Villafañe, On Your Feet
Adrienne Warren, Shuffle Along
BEST MALE DANCER
Phillip Attmore, Shuffle Along
Alex Brightman, School of Rock
Daveed Diggs, Hamilton
Carlos Gonzalez, On Your Feet
Curtis Holland, Shuffle Along
Kendrick Jones, Shuffle Along
Luis Salgado, On Your Feet
Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton
Warren Carlyle, She Loves Me
Savion Glover, Shuffle Along
Lorin Latarro, Waitress
Spencer Liff, Spring Awakening
Casey Nicholaw, Tuck Everlasting
Sergio Trujillo, On Your Feet
Josh Rhodes, Bright Star
Hofesh Shechter, Fiddler on the Roof
Randy Skinner, Dames at Sea
OUTSTANDING ENSEMBLE IN A BROADWAY SHOW
Dames at Sea
Fiddler on the Roof
On Your Feet
School of Rock
She Loves Me
OUTSTANDING CHOREOGRAPHY IN FILM
Luke Broadlick, Teresa Espinosa, Alison Faulk & Channing Tatum, Magic Mike XXL
Christopher Gattelli, Hail, Caesar!
Aakomon Jones, Pitch Perfect 2
Joey Pizzi, Lucky Stiff
Fatima Robinson & Charm Jordan, Dance Camp
Dave Scott, High Strung
OUTSTANDING FEMALE DANCER OFF-BROADWAY
Yesenia Ayala, Trip Of Love
Leslie Kritzer, The Robber Bridegroom
Rumi Oyama, Sayonara
Jaime Lynn Verazin, Standard Time
Ellen Zolezzi, Cagney
OUTSTANDING MALE DANCER OFF-BROADWAY
Jeremy Benton, Cagney
Dave Thomas Brown, The Legend Of Georgia McBride
Robert Creighton, Cagney
Cory Lingner, Once Upon A Mattress
Matt McGrath, The Legend Of Georgia McBride
OUTSTANDING CHOREOGRAPHY OFF-BROADWAY
Joshua Bergasse, Cagney
Martha Clarke, Angel Reapers
Connor Gallagher, The Robber Bridegroom
Paul McGill ,The Legend Of Georgia McBride
James Ortiz, Claire Karpen & Will Gallacher, The Woodsman
Sergio Trujillo & Darrell Grand Moultrie, Invisible Thread
Judith Jamison, Artistic Director Emeritus of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will be presented with the Douglas Watt Lifetime Achievement Award. Nigel Lythgoe, Executive Producer of “So You Think You Can Dance,” will receive the award for Outstanding Contribution to the Field of Dance. Broadway Director, Choreographer and Tony Nominated Actor Maurice Hines, who appeared off- Broadway this season in his show Tappin’ Through Life, will be recognized with a special recognition award for Outstanding Body of Work in Dance. Dr. Joan Fallon, Founder and CEO of Curemark, will be presented with a special achievement award for her work in the field of autism related disorders.
Tickets for the 2016 Fred and Adele Astaire Awards begin at $75 and can be purchased at here or by calling (888) 611-8183.
Alvin Ailey Takes Artistry and Spirit Across the World
Photo: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater by Andrew Eccles
There are many traditions that shape the south.
Football is king.
At the Fox Theater in Atlanta, the annual return of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company is fast becoming a tradition. Robert Battle, the company’s current Artistic Director, reminded the audience that they had been coming to the ATL since 2001.
Tradition, however, does not means old or tired. In fact, the show was a bit of the shake up from the norm with two very new pieces performed.
Let’s talk about one of them. Awakening, choreographed by Battle by himself, is one of the most stunning performances on stage. The music was purposefully grating and raw. It resembled a horror movie score. The audience laughed uncomfortably at first, but soon they were mesmerized, like me, by the purity of the movements, the sharp, turns, and the intense physicality of the piece. For almost 20 minutes the dancers were in constant motion. Dressed in all white, they felt like a single unit fighting something together. The piece was unnerving with lights that flickered and displayed horizontally and vertically behind the dancers. While the other pieces were drenched in Afro and African diaspora, this piece was blanketed in sheer emotion. It opened after the intermission and enlivened an already excited audience.
At this stage they were well primed and pumped for the companies signature piece, Revelations. I had seen the piece a few times including another time years ago in Atlanta.
I recognized it as a lovely piece back then. But, age and life have come to convince me that Revelations is indeed a religious experience.
Sitting with a collective of mostly black folks (though there was a healthy sprinkle of diversity in the audience) I found my spirit called up more than my artistic sensibilities.
When the song “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel” played I felt transported back to my old baptist church, curved over the alter asking for the Lord to meet me halfway.
No matter how sophisticated and educated I think I am watching the Ailey dancers move as the Holy Spirit itself caught hold, I can’t help but wave my hand and say “hallelujah.” This is not to say the piece can not be enjoyed from a secular standpoint. The grace and move of the choreography holds up even though the piece was conceived by Ailey in 1960.
But I would be lying if I just spoke of the dancing. It was a spiritual and cathartic release and the audience reacted with every hand turn, every kick and every new song.
Thursday had four pieces- Open Door, Cry, Awakening, and Revelations. All were enjoyable, but the second act showcased the cohesive merging of two artistic styles.
I am equally as excited to see what Ailey will do next and happy to have celebrated what they have already done.
Atlanta was only the beginning. The Alvin Ailey Dance Company is currently touring and could be in a city near you. Find the tour schedule here!
International tour schedule starts in September! View that schedule here!
About Broadway Black:
BroadwayBlack.com is dedicated to highlighting the achievements and successes of African-American theatre artists on and off the Broadway stage. For so long, our voices have been skimmed over inside and outside of The Great White Way. However, we know we have experiences to share that are essential. BroadwayBlack.com serves as a collective of things we all care for. It is a platform for all things Black theatre. Created for the child in all of us who looked up to the stage searching for the faces that looked like ours. Celebrating the dedication of those who hand over their life to give all they have to the stage, shining light on those that continue our journey, & paying tribute to those who blazed the way for our story to be told, seen, and heard on The Great Way.
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