East Harlem dance teacher Robin Williams needs a financial boost to save her Uptown Dance Academy

She won't let this be their last dance. East Harlem dance teacher Robin Williams is fighting to save her Uptown Dance Academy on 121st St. near Third Ave. “Dancing has been a part of my life since I’ve been alive. This is what I do, this is what I am. I can’t see it being closed,” said Williams, 56, UDA founder and artistic director. The company took a turn for the worse when Williams’ 80-year-old mother Precious suffered a stroke in 2012. Precious, who moved to the Big Apple from their native Detroit, acted as the backbone of the company handling extensive administrative duties. The stroke left Precious partially blind and confined to an assisted living facility — and Williams is now stretched thin physically and financially. “I go out of my way to keep the doors open, but they could close any minute because I don’t have the funds I need to operate,” she said, adding that she owes thousands in back rent. Prior to her mother’s stroke, Williams was preparing to return to UDA’s initial home, a vast, second floor, 16,000-square-foot space at 2234 Third Ave. that they were forced to vacate in 2007. With a hefty $250,000 donation from renowned singer Prince, Williams began construction at UDA’s former site. Issues with the contractor, followed by her mother’s stroke, left Williams back at square one. Williams is paying for both the 3,000-square-foot two-floor studio on 121st St. where her school now operates and its former space on Third Ave. where the rent is $4,000 and $6,000, respectively, she said. She owes one landlord a whopping $30,000 and the other roughly $8,000. “When the grants come in, I catch up,” said Williams, who operates on a $252,000 budget which includes a total of $30,000 from Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Councilwoman Inez Dickens and the New York State Continue Reading

Dance Theater of Harlem — thought to be dead — revives with a successful season and plans for another

They’re young, they’re hot, and they have one hell of a comeback story. Dancers with the Dance Theater of Harlem took a routine curtain call after a show in 2004 — yet no one expected would be its last. The company went on hiatus for what was supposed to be one month — but it lasted eight years. But the country’s first African-American ballet company has finally pulled itself out of a crippling $2.3 million debt and is now wrapping up a successful 2012-2013 season. “It took a long time to get to where we were stabile enough to bring the company back,” said Virginia Johnson, the Dance Theater’s artistic director, a founding member of the company, and its former prima ballerina. “It broke my heart when the company had to close.” Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook started The Dance Theater of Harlem in 1969 with a ground-breaking vision: they wanted to prove that ballet was not just about white dancers. The pair trained and presented a classical ballet company with stars of color. They toured the world, danced through barriers, and were honored with a Medal of the Arts at the White House. “Back in 1969, I was a young ballet dancer who had trained all my life, but I was told I couldn’t be a ballerina because of the color of my skin,” said Johnson. “When Arthur created this dance company he changed my life and when he asked me to come back and revive the company I knew it was time for me to do the same for the next generation.” The company rebuilt with a nucleus of dancers from its own ballet school. But the company, which once had 44 members, had to slim down to just 18 dancers. “There’s a lot more work for each dancer now,” said ballerina Ashley Murphy, who has been with the company since before the hiatus. The new ensemble also meant a new set of dances. “We had to rework the repertoire, we don’t have a Continue Reading

Harlem Stage at 30: Still a vital, diverse player on  the Uptown arts scene

Thirty years in, and Harlem Stage still pushes the creative envelope by presenting challenging work. Known for commissioning and debuting experimental and often provocative work by artists of color — past pieces include Roger Guenveur Smith’s “Who Killed Bob Marley,” and Bill T. Jones’ “Chapel Chapter,” — Harlem Stage will mark it’s 30th anniversary by presenting five commissioned pieces over the next 12 months: l Pianist Jason Moran and bassist/vocalist Meshell Ndegeocello will perform a free “Fats Waller Dance Party” outdoor concert, on Sat., July 28 in the schoolyard next door to Harlem Stage’s headquarters in the Gatehouse, at Convent Avenue and 135th St., outside the New York City College gates. l “Holding It Down: The Veterans Dreams Project,” by Vijay Iyer and Mike Ladd with Maurice Decaul, which premieres Sept. 19 2012, uses poetry, music and video to examine the lives of black and brown soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The work was co-commissioned with Multiplicity Musics LLC. l Kyle Abraham’s “Pavement,” a dance theater piece, is set in Pittsburgh’s historic Homewood neighborhood and combines elements of movie director John Singleton’s “Boys N Da Hood” with essays from W.E.B. DuBois’s groundbreaking book, “Souls of Black Folk,” and Philippe Jaroussky’s “Carestini: The Story of a Castrato” to examine the state and history of Black America. Pavement debuts Nov. 1, 2012. l Next March, Harlem Stage premieres “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite Ballet.” Conceived and produced by Alexa Birdsong with choreography by Ayo Jackson, the piece celebrates the late jazz drummer Max Roach’s 1960 album of the same name which Harlem Stage mounted in 1993 with Roach, Ossie Davis and Cassandra Wilson. l The 30th Anniversary season will end in June, 2013 with Continue Reading

Holiday plays, musicals and dance performances to celebrate the season in Phoenix

The holidays are all about tradition, and that’s true on stages across the Valley. For dance lovers, of course, there are more “Nutcrackers” than you can shake a toe shoe at. And if you're into theater, there’s family fare such as “A Christmas Carol” but also naughty options like Space 55’s “A Bloody Mary Christmas.” Here are our Top 10 picks for holiday shows this season.Space 55 Ensemble’s annual offering is billed as “the holiday musical for people who hate the holidays and musicals.” It’s an R-rated farce about three booze-swilling, F-bomb-dropping Sun City seniors who face eviction if they can’t come up with $5,000 in back fees for the homeowners association by Christmas. Joining in on the drinking is highly recommended for this one.Details: Through Friday, Dec. 30. Space 55, 636 E. Pierce St., Phoenix. $15-$20. space55.org.RELATED: Ho, ho, holiday movies: Here are 11 to see on or before Christmas that intrigue | 5 uniquely Arizona holiday traditions and events | Phoenix Zoolights and Los Noches de las Luminarias return for 2016The 1983 movie about 9-year-old Ralphie Parker’s quest for a Red Ryder BB gun has become a holiday tradition, and the stage musical adaptation is well on its way to attaining similar status. It doesn’t just re-create the favorite moments from the film, it one-ups them with big production numbers such as “A Major Award,” which features not just one sexy leg lamp but a Rockettes kick line of them.Details: Through Wednesday, Dec. 28. Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 W. Paradise Lane, Peoria. Call for prices. 623-776-8400, azbroadway.org.Ebenezer Scrooge and “A Christmas Carol” get an irreverent spin in this improv-driven comedy created by Chicago’s famed Second City troupe. Adult content, so leave Tiny Tim at home for this one.Details: Wednesday, Nov. 30, through Saturday, Dec. 24. Continue Reading

Harlem scholar Yasmin Venable, class of 2015,  pursues dance and biology at CUNY’s Lehman College

 Yasmin Venable mixes art and science with ease. The Lehman College freshman plans on majoring in biology, but spends most of her time getting a little more creative. The 18-year-old Harlem native, who has been dancing professionally since her sophomore year of high school, is part of the Scholars program at Alvin Ailey II with some of the country’s best young dance talent. “I’m not majoring in dance, but during the summer I went to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s summer intensive program. I auditioned for their year-round professional program and I got in,” she says. As part of Scholars, which she takes in coordination with her studies at Lehman, Venable attends at least 12 dance classes a week. “I take at least one ballet class each day and then another technique class, but most days I take about three classes, she says. “So I’m busy. It’s intense, but good.” When she’s not practicing pirouettes or plies, Venable is making her way through the typical first-year courses at Lehman College, which include honors English, a biology lab, a seminar on witchcraft and religion, and pre-calculus. Venable says she finds a connection between math and science and dancing. Though she is more drawn to dance, Venable explains that the art form is often misconstrued as being completely loose and free. “In classical dance, both ballet and modern, movement has to be very precise and calculated,” she says. “Yet there has to be a sense of freedom and experimentation in the movement to make it appear effortless and exciting. So, in a sense, dance is both loose and strict.” This sort of creative focus helped Venable become a Lehman Scholar and receive a full scholarship to the CUNY campus in the Bronx. As a requirement, she must keep her GPA up and take a number of seminars. “I’m enjoying my classes and I like my teachers. They’re challenging and they don’t Continue Reading

Stevie Wonder parties with Questlove, Gabourey Sidibe, Robert De Niro at Harlem’s Apollo Theater

Stevie Wonder may hail from the Motown area, but he became a son of Harlem Monday night, when the Apollo Theater honored him at its annual spring gala. The singer-songwriter wowed the landmark theater’s starry crowd with a number of his beloved hits and then entertained a cappella at the after-party. The festivities got started when Wonder was inducted into the Apollo Legends Hall of Fame by Tony Bennett. The dynamic duo surprised the crowd with an impromptu duet of "For Once in My Life." He was eventually joined onstage by an all-star roster of musicians that included "Late Show with David Letterman" bandleader Paul Shaffer on organ, The Roots' QuestLove on drums, jazz great Chick Corea on acoustic piano; the evening's musical director Ray Chew on keyboards, flutist Bobbi Humphrey and rapper Doug E. Fresh who contributed his talents as a human beat box. (Singers Melanie Fiona,Yolanda Adams and Raphael Saadiq also performed Wonder songs earlier that night.) By the time Wonder played "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours," the crowd — featuring Gabourey Sidibe, Robert De Niro, Raphael Saadiq and Phylicia Rashad — was on its feet. One concertgoer tells us that filmmaker Spike Lee and the Rev. Al Sharpton, sitting next to each other, even had a dance-off. The evening’s only real glitch came before the jam started, when Wonder couldn’t find his in-ear monitors. A stagehand emerged to dig through Wonder’s jacket and pants pockets, and eventually found them tucked in the waistband. "They were stuck in my booty," Wonder told the crowd to big laughs. Revlon owner Ron Perelman also prompted a few snickers when he dropped the f-bomb twice while accepting an award. After the ceremony, the celebration moved to a tented space behind the theater on W. 126th St., where Wonder, Lee and Fresh joined DJ D-Nice in the deejay booth for the after-party. Wonder continued to entertain until midnight with a cappella Continue Reading

Rosie’s Kids take on Broadway in choreographed song and dance; theater company gives kids a chance

Her name is Destiny. And as she twirls to Javier Colon's song "Stitch by Stitch," she seems to have always belonged here, on this dance floor, at the Maravel Arts Center amidst the grand theaters of Broadway. Colon sings: "My scars are open, so put me back together now, stitch by stitch." Destiny's expressive hands seem to yank something out of her heart and let it flutter away. "We talk about finding things you need fixed inside you, what's holding you back," explains teacher Kyle Pleasant, who choreographs the moves for Destiny and the other members of Rosie O'Donnell's Rosie's Theater Kids program for New York City schoolchildren. "Take that energy, and let it out. Find your joy." Indeed, the faces of the 20 young dancers are lit up by song's end, despite two hours of rehearsing inside on a beautiful Saturday. But there's extra frisson among the troupers today, because Maravel director Lori Klinger has just told them that in four days, they'll fly to Chicago to perform the number with Colon himself. They'll tape it for "The Rosie Show," O'Donnell's new talk show on Oprah Winfrey's OWN network. For Destiny, it's a special birthday present. Tomorrow, she will turn 12, but her somber face and manner of speech belong to someone who has already seen a lot of life. Destiny is homeless, living in a shelter with her three sisters and single mother. She shows up at Maravel three times a week, coming from the shelter in Harlem, or up from her school on the lower East Side. Many of Rosie's Kids are working-class children with strong families. Some struggle in the projects, or come from homes broken by crime. The program - O'Donnell and Klinger planned it in 2003 at Rosie's kitchen table - brings everyone to a Broadway show, and 120 students a year are chosen to continue with afterschool lessons and tutoring until they graduate from high school. At a gala last month, O'Donnell and friends including Elvis Duran and Cynthia Nixon cajoled and prodded Continue Reading

Thanks to donors like Prince, American Ballet’s Copeland, The Uptown Dance Academy regains space

The Uptown Dance Academy is going home, thanks to American Ballet Theatre soloist Misty Copeland and the artist once again known as Prince. UDA founder and artistic director Robin Williams and managing director George Bellinger Jr. used Prince's $250,000 donation to return the company to the cavernous, second-floor space at 2234 Third Ave. it was forced to vacate two years ago. Williams is also launching a $2.5 million fund-raising campaign that will not only pay for the renovations but also let UDA restore some programs and afford the group some financial stability. "We had to downsize many of our programs when we moved," Williams said. "Once we restore our programs we'll need more teachers, more staffing." A Detroit native, Williams said she has been dancing since she was 5 years old after her mother, Precious Williams, enrolled her in a dance class. "My mom put me in dance," Williams said. "She grew up on a farm and was not allowed to dance because of religion. But it was just revealed to me that my grandfather [the Rev. John Williams] - before the farm, before he decided to get straight in his ways, he used to dance. "He danced for money from whites when he was a young boy." Now retired, Williams' mother has worked at UDA for 10 years. Williams studied dance at Detroit's Marygrove College, where Madonna Louise Ciccone (Madonna) of Bay City, Mich., was a classmate. "She was just a regular dancer," Williams recalled. "I didn't know she could sing. We were both dance majors." Williams was 19 when she moved to New York to work as a professional dancer. She has danced in the Dance Theater of Harlem ensemble, Ballet Long Island, and almost made the first company of Alvin Ailey. "It came down to me and another girl, and she got it," Williams said. "My forte as a professional dancer was that I was able to go from one style to another," Williams said. "I can go from classical ballet to traditional black dance. Not everyone can do that." Continue Reading

Mary J. Blige helps save Harlem School of the Arts with promise to keep funds rolling in

A beloved Harlem arts school will re-open this weekend with a new board, a $1 million lifeline and a promise from R&B star Mary J. Blige to help keep the funds rolling in.Mayor Bloomberg said Wednesday as he announced a rescue plan for the troubled school that shut down three weeks ago amid a fiscal and management crisis."When it came for others to step up and bail this organization out of a bad situation, a situation that had gone on for much too long, there was a core of quality here that everybody understood had to be preserved," Bloomberg said.The city helped broker a deal that replaces the school's board with five new members and re-opens its doors with $1 million in grants from the Herb Alpert Foundation -- which offered $500,000 -- the Starr Foundation and others.Charles Hamilton, a partner in the real estate firm La Cite Development, as well as leaders in finance. A dean from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts is on the new board as is Ephraim Emmanuel, the president of the school's parents association. The school, which was founded in 1964 by nationally acclaimed soprano Dorothy Maynor, has trained Harlem children for decades on weekends and after school in music, dance, theater and the visual arts.Madeline Nelson-Small, the director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now and the mother of a student at the school, said she'd enlisted Blige to host a fund-raiser for the school in the near future.   Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Retracing steps of Harlem trailblazer Hubert Harrison

He's not widely known and he's not commonly praised, but Hubert Harrison was The Man. The talks, thoughts and teachings of the St. Croix, Virgin Islands-born, Harlem-based educator, writer and activist influenced historic black leaders, such as Jamaican national hero Marcus Garvey and African-American labor leader A. Philip Randolph. On Tuesday, author Jeffrey Perry's discussion "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism" will shed some much-deserved light on this late, great leader. The event will be held at the Brooklyn College Library's Tanger Auditorium, 2900 Bedford Ave., from 2:15 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Perry is the author of the biography "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918." The book examines Harrison's exceptional analysis of class and race in America, his influence on the leaders of his time and beyond. For information on the event, call Prof. Joseph Wilson at (718) 951-5997, and visit www.jeffreybperry.net for more about Perry and the Harrison biography. Honoring a legend through dance In the wake of the death of its co-founder Rex Nettleford, the National Dance Theater Company of Jamaica will be coming to the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts next month to perform in his honor. The ensemble's performances, on March 6 at 8 p.m. and March 7 at 2 p.m., will include some Nettleford-created works. An internationally renowned scholar and educator Nettleford, who died Feb. 2, served as artistic director and principal choreographer for the dance company. Tickets are $40 for the orchestra and $30 for the mezzanine. And there are discounts available for groups of 15 or more. Call the box office at (718) 951-4500, Tuesday through Saturday, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. For groups sales, call (718) 951-4600, ext. 33. For online ticket orders, visit brooklyncenteronline.org. 3 nations unite for cultural performance Three performing artists - poet and filmmaker Merle Collins of Grenada, singer and novelist Andrene Continue Reading