Dance Matters: Swing Into the Season
Ellington’s Nut at the Apollo
While the Apollo is a mecca for musical performers, the Harlem theater has a long heritage as a hub for dance. “From Honi Coles and
Bojangles to John Bubbles, the Nicholas Brothers, the Hines Brothers, and Sammy Davis Jr.—practically every tap artist performed here at some point,” says Mikki Shepard, the Apollo’s executive producer. Shepard, a former presenter at Brooklyn Academy of Music who helped establish the DanceAfrica festival with Chuck Davis, is committed to revamping the Apollo’s dance programming. “We want to integrate dance into everything we do by inviting companies to perform here and commissioning new, large-scale work,” she says. This summer, the Apollo paid tribute to Harlem’s jazz legacy and nightclub scene with “Apollo Club Harlem,” featuring Maurice Hines and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. Sadler’s Wells’ annual Breakin’ Convention also made a three-day appearance, showcasing some of hip-hop’s top international talent.
Left: Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards at the Apollo. Photo courtesy Apollo.
October’s “James Brown: Get On the Good Foot” included performances from Philadanco, Derick K. Grant, Aakash Odedra, and Lauren Cox, and new works by Thang Dao, Camille A. Brown, Souleymane Badolo, and Ronald K. Brown. And the Apollo continues its dance programming this month with “Ellington at Christmas.” Featuring a 15-member swing band playing Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite and Sacred Music, the show will include performances from Dance Theatre of Harlem School students and the inimitable Savion Glover.
DTH resident choreographer Robert Garland, who will direct the event, has created two pieces for the students set to Ellington’s “Peanut Brittle Brigade” (a swinging take on the Tchaikovsky march from The Nutcracker’s first act) and “Dance of the Floreadores” (a sultrier “Waltz of the Flowers”). “I see my role as helping the kids to understand their own histories—where they fit in the world and who has contributed to their idea of themselves,” says Garland. “And giving these young dancers a real experience with Ellington’s music—live—is such a rarity. Nothing beats that swing band sound. When it’s live, you have to dance.”
Catch “Ellington at Christmas,” Dec. 7 at the Apollo Theater and Dec. 8 at NJPAC.