Life of James Baldwin commemorated

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.

EMPOWERED—Charles Reeves and the JazzanAtiqua Dance and Music Ensemble raise
their fists after the final performance of the fifth annual Black History Project on Friday in the
S2 Recital Hall. C/N Diego Linares

This article has 1 Comment

  1. Dear Megan G. Razzetti,

    I was there on Thursday, March 16th ( not Friday as you mentioned) and I must say this article really does NOT reflect what my friends and I saw. For me, it was an inspiredly-interdisciplinary evening of theatrical performance, travel narrative, dance and truth telling. I’ve not seen something like this before which weaves one artist’s connection to another, then invites us – the audience – to make connections to art, to history, to each other. All of the stage management aside, that guy, Charles Reese taught and shared things about James Baldwin and a secret meeting Robert Kennedy that I never heard about. ( and I remember the date May 24,1963). He did it in a very non traditional and inviting way. He even came out in the audience and talked directly to us about that secret meeting. Made us think about how to use that meeting for what is happening in our crazy world today. ( how did you NOT get any of that in this article). He made James Baldwin come to life for me when he read that passage from The Fire Next Time….I was blown away. (and the dance pieces afterward were very emotional for me. It got my heart and really made me think about what steps can I take). As a mixed race female and culturally in-tuned lover of art and culture who goes to a lot of things….this was really some excellent work. I found out at the last minute and was so glad I came. I went out to buy a few Baldwin books because of this program. I hope you consider taking another look at what some of the major things that happened on that night and really share that perspective with your audience. (and get some perspectives of other folk who were there). I hope Charles Reese and his team sees this note. Many thanks to East Los Angeles College for presenting this amazing program.

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