My worst Christmas memory does not involve realizing that Santa Claus isn’t a man of color born in Harlem or receiving a gift without the receipt for exchange purposes. Instead Christmas always manages to conjure the empty feeling of disappointment since in the third grade I lost the title role in “The Nutcracker” to my terribly misbehaved classmate. I was selected to be a mouse, not even the Mouse King! See, I’m still a little bitter which is why I was only marginally excited to attend “A New Holiday Revue” held at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
The always polished Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis reworked classic Christmas tunes into instrumentals, which complemented certain songs and made others almost unrecognizable. Marsalis was an amiable host full of witty banter. Uncharacteristically, gospel singer Kim Burrell appeared stiff and did not go all-out “church” on the sophisticated audience. She was decidedly restrained even on the soulful Donny Hathaway cut, “This Christmas.”
I don’t recall doing much dancing in “The Nutcracker” but if I did I wouldn’t have wanted the performers from Ballet Hispanico to join and upstage me. The company celebrating its 75th anniversary made a safe but solid debut at the Apollo Theater with Arturo O’ Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. After two repertory staples, “Club Havana” and “Tito on Timbales,” the company premiered artistic director, Eduardo Vilaro’s “Asuka,” an homage to Celia Cruz. Vilaro’s work was notable for same-sex dance pairings and women dipping men. “It is important for me to gender role play,” Vilaro says. “There is nothing wrong with same-sex movement. Culture is not static and it evolves with the times.” Overall, the production could have benefited from more innovative moments to reach its full potential.
Later that evening I headed to Joe’s Pub for the birthday concert of rock soul ballerina, Kimberly Nichole. Nichole possesses a powerful voice which she whips, cracks, dips, spins and twirls in emotional fever pitches on songs such as “Disconnected,” her debut album’s title cut, “The Yellow Brick Journey,” and her cover of “Cry Baby.” As an independent female African American rock artist, Nichole knows that gaining mainstream acceptance is a challenge but she is undeterred. “You rarely see black women doing rock music in mainstream, but we do exist,” she notes. “I can’t focus on how many of ‘us’ are in a specific style or genre. Mainstream will catch on very soon.” After her set Nichole received a special birthday/Christmas gift from creative artist, Beau McCall. Nichole told me that she loves the present which is a bra designed by McCall adorned in his signature style of buttons, “I put it on and danced around my Harlem abode. It’s perfect for the stage.”
Now that reminds me that I need to let go of my failed stage debut in “The Nutcracker,” embrace the holiday spirit and do some last-minute Christmas shopping around Harlem.
For more information on the Harlem Arts Alliance, visit www.harlemaa.org.
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