Matthew Rushing Closed His Eyes and the Audience Went Wild

December 23, 2008

This happened during an excerpt of Alvin Ailey’s
Three Black Kings
(1976) on an Ailey season’s “Ailey & Ellington” program at City Center. The music for this piece is Duke and Mercer Ellington’s Three Black Kings, conducted by Eric Reed, who conducted for the whole evening (including the fantastic singers for Revelations.) I did not know that Rushing was playing the part of Martin Luther King—I hadn’t had time to look at my program notes. But I knew he was dancing beautifully. He wore a white shirt and had lots of very active dancing which showed his inner heroism. At one point, stage center, he let his eyes close as though he was completely surrendering to the music (which sounded terrific), or it could have been a moment of prayer, or exhaustion or just a moment when his own efforts overwhelmed him. Whatever caused the lowering of the eye lids, it was a true and maybe unconscious feeling and the audience caught onto it and burst into whoops and claps and sighs. It’s amazing how a small moment like that, when the audience feels connected, can have such a large effect.