Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Press Preview: Two weeks until Soul Nativity 2015

The birth of a Savior, reimagined in Harlem. Mary and Joseph find their way along the traffic of 125th Street. Though not as old as the ancient story, this timeless production has been alive since 1995.

Starring the bright faces of the Harlem School of the Arts, the holiday spectacular features dance, live music and a soulful story that has changed with the times. 

“The way that we do the show - we do it in a modern setting, not 2,000 years ago in the Middle East, we set it in New York City,” said Alfred Preisser, Artistic Director of HSA.

Preisser has directed and produced of over 50 shows in New York and Europe but still remains committed and connected to the story that’s evolved over the years.

“I’ve done the show with AndrĂ© De Shields who’s a Broadway star, I’ve done the show on 141st Street with students,” he said. “So it’s over 20 years I have a relationship to this show and Tracy, who’s giving notes to the cast right now, was actually a 12 year-old girl in the first version of Soul Nativity that I ever saw.” 

Soul Nativity 2015 joins an ensemble of performers including the Dorothy Maynor Singers, the HSA Young Theatre Alliance, the Harlem Japanese Choir and the Voices of Flame Choir.

“We are heavily influenced R&B, the sound of Motown,” he added. “We’re referencing Gladys Night and the Pips and contemporary acts, and there’s enough room and humor in the story for people to really express themselves and be themselves.”

With a mix of traditional and new this year’s production include a ballet interlude choreographed by Aubrey Lynch. The creative team includes Tracy Jack, director, and Jeffrey Bolding from the Abyssinian Baptist Church.

“There’s actually a lot of heart and some serious messages at the bottom of all this song and dance,” said Preisser. “It’s like celebrate life, and if you are religious celebrate the life of everybody.”

The show will also debut for the first time British Virgin Islands on Dec. 4, while partnering with a youth empowerment program in Tortola, before opening at home in Harlem on Dec. 11.

For over 50 years, the premier arts institute has a history of devoting its programs to enriching and developing talented professionals across all disciplines in the arts.

HSA is located on 645 St. Nicholas Avenue, at 141st Street, Hamilton Heights. For information on Soul Nativity 2015 visit: Tickets are $20 in advance; $25 at the door; $15 for students.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The 2015 Justice Ball: Harry Belafonte, the Central Park Five, Alida Garcia Honored

Harry Belafonte pictured with Dr. Martin Luther King
Champions of justice, human rights and equality were at the forefront of the 2015 Justice Ball, organized by The Gathering at the Apollo Theater on Monday evening.

The gala took place in Harlem to commemorate the life and work Harry Belafonte, the vindicated Central Park Five and activist Alida Garcia. 

“This past year has been the most fulfilling part of my life being apart of this,” said Garcia.

With the Justice League NYC, the Stanford graduate spends her time - night and day - working to develop cultural outlet programs in penitentiaries and improve the issues within detention centers and child incarceration.

The Central Park Five were honored by the Jersey Four and tributed with a performance by Immortal Technique.

It was in 1989, that media and public opinion shifted against young teens Raymond Santana Jr., Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Anton McCray and Kharey Wise, after a 28-year-old woman was brutally slain in Central Park. Stories described the young men as a  “wolf pack,” “the roving gang” and “crazed misfits.” 

They were vilified by the press and local politicians, with Donald Trump even placing an ad in the New York Times reading “Bring Back the Death Penalty” for the group of men declared innocent after years in prison for a crime they never committed.

“Ken Burns, in the film, said that we became the worst human beings on the earth and everyone turned their backs to us,” said Richardson. “We are what happens when the system fails, and all we had was each other.”

The Gathering also celebrated its 10-year anniversary with performances by Trinidad’s Machel Montana, Jon Batiste and V Bozeman, of “Empire.”

“Artists are the gatekeepers of truth,” said Henry Belafonte quoting Paul Robeson in his remarks expressing gratitude and humility. 

Jon Batiste serenading Harry Belafonte during the Justice Ball. 
For over eight decades Belafonte has dedicated his life to securing freedom for men, women and children  to establish a standard for equal human rights.

Robeson was listed among Eleanor Roosevelt, W.E.B. DuBois and Dr. Martin Luther King as influentials figures that live on through the ideals they embedded into his life and within society.

“Mr. Belafonte, because you are a strong man, you have made us all strong men,” said actor Wendell Pierce, after reading “Strong Men” by poet Sterling A. Brown.

He called upon the spirit of doing for others, what is no ordinary task and one that often comes with great risk, as work that must continue on until there is a liberation for each individual in society. 


“Mr.B’s life has reminded us that human rights are truly universal and indivisible. That if we cared about a Syrian Refugee being shot, then we have to be equally be concerned with the Black child walking in Chicago being shot. Mr. B has reminded us that if we are concerned with women working in sweatshops in Bangladesh, we have to worry about women working in catfish farms in Mississippi. If we are concerned with lives individuals around the world, whether they be in Russia or China languishing in jail, we have to be concerned with Black lives here and think that Mr. B in his life, in his work, has reminded us that human rights are everywhere.”
  • Steven W. Hawkins, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, on Harry Belafonte, Ambassador of Consciousness