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Thats What Im Talking About

by Uzzie Cannon

March 9,2010

When I learned some months ago that the renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Company was returning to Charlotte, a smile crept up that I could hardly contain. Yet, it disappeared quicker than the wind blows. I had been trying to see this dance company for five years, but every time it came to the town in which I have lived, I was out of town, sick, out of town, sick, or— you guessed it— out of town.  I once believed I was cursed and thus destined to never see what Ailey imagined for the world of modern dance.  On Friday, February 12, 2010, I thought my fate had come full circle when The Weather Channel predicted a snowstorm for Charlotte. The scenario was quite familiar at that point: I'd get excited, purchase my ticket, then never see the dance company perform. Well, I decided this time around that I was going to challenge the fates and attend this show! I just had to make sure that my mother was not beckoning me home, that I stayed a way from all potential flu cases, and that four-wheel drive was engaged on my vehicle.  Performance night arrived without a show cancellation, so my friend and I trudged through a winter wonderland to the Knight Theater.

Upon arriving, I witnessed the beauty and sophistication of the modern venue in which Ailey’s production was being held. I’m no neophyte when it comes to attending visual performances—I have seen a few shows on Broadway and visited some of the best art venues the world has to offer.  However, finally seeing the AAADT was at once magical and accomplishing.  While I pride myself on having studied some of the best African American art, I had never studied a dance company, let alone one founded and directed by African Americans.  I hoped the performance would be unforgettable. It was!

The first performance, 'Uptown,' highlighted the images and syncretic dance of the vibrant, exotic, and celebratory nature of everyday life during the Harlem Renaissance. 'Uptown' resonated within my soul.  Matthew Rushing choreographed this act, celebrating the lives of folk such as Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and the incomparable Josephine Baker. As poet Carl Hancock Rux narrated Hughes’ 'The Weary Blues,' a lone male dancer with a quiet strength immersed me in a blue, sweet funk as I played voyeur to his melancholy gamboling. From this moment, a literary high invaded my spirit and quieted the anxiety that had been mine up to that point of the night. I was mesmerized and speechless during the intermission that followed.

With 'Dancing Spirit,' I could not help but be moved as the unmistakable Afro-Caribbean percussion and dancers’ lithe gyrations summoned my latent desire to dance.  As I sat in my seat, I thought about water, sand, and steel drums beside a cabana on a Caribbean island.  I needed that short mental trip, as an image of my drive home in three inches of snow hijacked my mind by the dancers' final bow.  I actually thought the show was over at that point; fortunately, I was wrong.  The famed 'Love Stories' ballet would follow the last intermission.

'Love Stories,' a more upbeat and contemporary piece, touched the hip-hop vein in me.  It was a performance that made me feel young again, and evoked the break dance circles my peers and I would create as teenagers in my neighborhood.  On stage, every dancer had a moment in the circle as the song 'Black People Dance at Home' articulated a powerful and commanding sentiment about the love of one’s people and culture. It conjured notions of community, and made me want to yell 'That’s what I’m talking about!'  Of course, I resisted the impulse to shout in the theater, but did provide approbation of the overall performance with standing applause.

Seeing Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for the first time has been one of the highlights of my time in Charlotte.  After fighting the efforts of fate, I am glad I did not give up on seeing this show.  The performances were simply astounding; each one moved me mentally, physically, and spiritually. Seeing the theater reawakened in me a trust that Charlotte indeed can become a place where I can thrive culturally.

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