By Megan G. Razzetti
What was expected to educate and enlighten through creativity, “Bearing Witness to James Baldwin” fell short of its goal last Friday.
The East Los Angeles College Black History Project’s 5th annual production, directed by ELAC Associate Dance professor Wanda Lee Evans, consisted of its usual performers in the dance company JazzAntiqua, choreographed by Pat Taylor, and collaborated with actor and author Charles Reese.
The event was created to commemorate the 30th anniversary of activist and author James Baldwin’s death by highlighting his work through creative media.
The three movements were split up, each having their own topic in which people was hoping that the influence of Baldwin would be highlighted. The concept was to create a literary salon in which Reese would engage the audience in the performance in order to present the work and life of Baldwin.
Instead it felt like a last-minute rushed Powerpoint one would see in a class presentation. During the progression of the presentation, many clips featuring Baldwin were played for the audience to hear interviews in which he spoke of social issues. The combination of these clips were played off YouTube and were not fluid in their transitions.
Reese took parts of an offBroadway play: “James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire.” He starred in and created what seemed to be a one man show. He started the opening movement, “Wherefore art thou, brother James Baldwin?” by projecting each line from the back of the S2 Recital Hall.
JazzAntiqua ’s beautiful dancer’s grace stage for brief moments of time, gliding along to jazz instrumentals and at times Reese’s monologues.
The ensemble should have had more prominence on stage rather than Reese instead of being an afterthought in the performance.
One highlight of the dance numbers, was dancer Jason Poullard who demonstrated strength and beauty as he moved with ease in powerful movements on stage.
The company made up of dancers: IIze Mattson, Bridget Murano, Sarah Platte, Latrice Postell, Laura Ann Smyth, Stacey Strickland and Shari Washington Rhone added a magical element to the dance pieces in their own ways.
The unorganized stage management was an unfortunate and distracting way to share the importance of Baldwin’s influence with the ELAC community.
The event wound down with Reese reading a few excerpts from Baldwin’s book “The Fire Next Time,” which in itself left one with a profound interest in reading further on Baldwin’s works.