Friday, October 11, 2013

Dreaming America with Sekou Sundiata

The 51st (dream) State
Singer Ronnell Bey
from the 51st (dream) state
Launched in April and concluding tomorrow night, Blink Your Eyes: Sekou Sundiata Revisited festival has spanned numerous performance sites around town, paying tribute to the Black poet-griot-activist who died in 2007. A presentation of MAPP International Productions, Blink Your Eyes offers a timely retrospective of Sundiata's work and of questions that preoccupied him, such as the still unfinished business of realizing American democracy and justice.

Last evening, the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in Soho presented Sundiata's final theatrical work, the 51st (dream) state, in an adaptation for radio broadcast before a live audience. It was directed by Arthur Yorinks and hosted by John Schaefer of WNYC's Soundcheck. The unusually close, intimate space at the Greene heightened connection between audience members and an array of wonderful performers including jazz singer La Tanya Hall (taking Sundiata's role of narrator) and the original vocalists, Ronnell Bey, Audrey MartellBora Yoon and Samita Sinha.
La Tanya Hall as Poet/Narrator
Vocal cast of The 51st (dream) state
L-r: Hall, Bora Yoon, Ronnell Bey, Samita Sinha and Audrey Martell
Aside from a few times when the flourish of music swallowed Yoon's or Sinha's occasionally wispy vocalizing--both otherwise shine in quieter, spirit-filled passages--the work proceeded with fearless honesty and radiance. The small band--led by musical director/trumpeter Eddie Allen and conducted by Richard Harper--was tight, authoritative, sensuous to the max. Sitting just a few feet away, we could feel, to the core, everything they set before us.

The 51st (Dream) State is a post-9/11 meditation and intervention. Although, as Schaefer chose to emphasize, this is not "a 9/11 piece," Sundiata did not shrink from vividly invoking chilling imagery from that time of horror. He did so with exceptional courage to witness reality, free of sentimentality, and to grapple with consequences. And then he urged us to move on because we must--as a nation in flux and possibility--visualize who we want to be when we grow up.

Sundiata concluded with this challenge: "Why don't we get our hopes up too high?"

The poet has gone. His irreverent question resounds.

Watch the Blink Your Eyes presentation of the 51st (dream) state in its entirety here:

Blink Your Eyes: Sekou Sundiata Revisited continues with these remaining programs:

Days of Art & Ideas: Democracy, Imagination and Peeps of Color Now, a panel discussion at Harlem Stage Gatehouse. Tonight at 7:30pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Days of Art & Ideas: Blood, Muscle, Bone: the anatomy of wealth and poverty. Discussion and presentation on community-engagement by dance artists Liz Lerman and Jawole Zollar at Harlem Stage at Aaron Davis Hall. Saturday, October 12, 4pm-6pm. Free with reservation. Click here.

WeDaPeoples Cabaret: Fall 2013 at Harlem Stage at Aaron Davis Hall, Saturday, October 12, 7:30pm. For information and tickets, click here.

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