Gelan Lambert adds his years of dancing artistry to the musical cast of Fela!
Fela!, a musical based on the travails of Nigerian composer and activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti, is a portrayal of the groundbreaking artist’s life when he was the target of government soldiers assigned to end his public performances at the legendary Lagos nightclub, The Shrine.
If you haven’t witnessed this brilliantly and beautifully choreographed musical Fela!, you have indeed missed a treat. But do not fret; a national tour has been revived and is coming to a theater near you in 2013.
Rolling out had a chance to catch up with performer Gelan Lambert. Read what he has to say. –tony binns
How did you get involved with Fela!?
I auditioned after a phone call from my agent, suggesting that I try out for the role because she felt I had all of the attributes that Bill T. Jones was looking for – a rhythm tapper who can perform in his choreographic idioms, proficient in contemporary modern, ballet, African dance, singing and acting. She knew I had the goods.
You are gearing up for a national tour now, when will it start and end and where are some of the designations?
The tour will officially begin on January 28, in Washington, DC’s Sidney Hartman Hall Theater. So right now, we are in rehearsals and the task of remounting the show is huge and doable. We’re scheduled to appear in Detroit, Chicago, Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles, Dallas and host of other cities. The tour is open-ended with other cities still coming on board because the show is that good.
Was there any particular preparation that readied you for this role?
I thank my relationship with Dr. Reginald Yates, who is a Senior Fulbright Scholar at Ghana’s American Embassy, among other roles. He interacts and extracts from the world in so many different contexts with the sole purpose of making this world a better place. I [see] him as a walking international treasure in what he knows, practices and shares about the world and life [and] in demonstrating how to prepare an artist on the subjects of performance and longevity. In addition, his scholarship is immense as is his respect for history. His mentoring has enlightened me to have a huge reverence for the African American experience on these shores and be proud of our African ancestors who were able to endure so we could benefit. The Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil Rights Act and the right to vote are the results. Through his mentorship, I have acquired a higher level of knowledge and I believe it’s what prepared me for this role. I give thanks and pay homage to those before me and I stand on their shoulders.
In your opinion, why aren’t there more African American-lead dance companies carrying on the proud traditions of Alvin Ailey, Arthur Mitchell and Katherine Dunham?
The talented ones are out here and we’re in an era where we have much more power in choosing who we support artistically. The internet has busted that wide open. I’m doing my part and if you want to see me continue, use your keyboards and smartphones to let that be known. I have the utmost respect for Katherine Dunham’s efforts in doing anthropological work in Haiti, Jamaica and the Caribbean. She formed her own dance company which inspired and mesmerized Alvin Ailey, who’s company is still with us today. His genius lives on, especially the masterpiece “Revelations”. Arthur Mitchell broke the racial barrier with New York City Ballet and that was a huge accomplishment. And greater still, his founding of the Dance Theater of Harlem, which still lives on today, enables ballet dancers of color to find work. This kind of tradition can continue, but it takes support from all communities. If you like what you see, hear or read, then show it. I’m grateful for the likes of Bill Bojangles Robinson, Sammy Davis Jr., Fred Astaire, Dudley Williams, Eleo Pomare, Pearl Primus, Maya Angelou, Fannie Lou Hamer, Nikki Giovanni, my teachers and my family – because of their sacrifices we live.