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The Greatness that greatness demands - The Prodigal Prince Returns with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Geoffrey Holder and Judith Jamison

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New York, USA - The epicenter of artistic greatness and spotlight of life achievements continue to surround Geoffrey Holder and Judith Jamison in their current playbill endeavors.

“Let’s go, let’s go - let’s go NO____W!” he belts in his now world-famous and instantly globally recognized booming voice. This is of course none other than Geoffrey Holder, the famed and respected actor, choreographer, director, dancer, painter, costume designer and singer in his element.  On this day When Steel Talks (WST) has just concluded an interview with the esteemed Geoffrey Holder at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York about his involvement in a major historical point in the development of the steelpan instrument and movement.  Holder is singularly responsible for the introduction of the steel pan instrument to “Broadway” through his involvement in the Truman Capote production House of Flowers, a musical by Harold Arlen (music and lyrics) and Truman Capote.

The Prodigal Prince performed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

WST are now on their way to a private screening of one the final rehearsals for Geoffrey Holder’s creation “The Prodigal Prince.”  The dance production is now being performed at the New York City Center in Manhattan.  At the session is none other that artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Judith Jamison. On this day Ms. Jamison is showing support and love for her distinguished colleague who has a long and collaborative artistic history with her. Indeed, there is a special bond, admiration and respect Jamison and Holder have for each other.

Erzulie & Hyppolite in The Prodigal Prince

Geoffrey Holder and Judith Jamison are true American icons whose works and existence have veritable global significance.  Their list of accomplishments and the richness of their life experiences are too numerous to adequately list or even attempt to address in this, or probably any forum.  Judith Jamison is the award-winning world-renowned dancer, choreographer and current artistic director of the world-famous Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.  And Geoffrey Holder is the celebrated author, painter, choreographer, actor and dancer just to name a few of his titles. Both are from humble backgrounds and beginnings that provide the fuel for their multiple lifetimes’ worth of successful undertakings.

Jamison is from Philadelphia and Holder is from the Caribbean island of Trinidad. These beginnings are unmovable and unmistakable place holders that are affixed to their smile, their humor, their language, their karma, their perspectives on the world, and in the timeless relevance of their respective life’s works.

At this juncture in time both Jamison and Holder have had every accolade possible written about and/or said to them. And yet, similar to that select group of true geniuses this writer has had the fortune to have known and even worked closely with, they are still ordinary people with a very special twist. They have the natural ability to have a passionate intellectual discussion with a world leader, as easily as they can have an intense debate with a four year-old over jellybeans.  The key is that they relate to people. And this is why like some others who have graced the WST pages - Max Roach, Clive Bradley, Teddy Vann -  Judith Jamison and Geoffrey Holder are not simply artistic giants of their professions - they are titans of all things considered.  They are ones to whom giants bow.

The Prodigal Prince performed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Like the physics of energy, their greatness could not be made, denied or destroyed - for both Holder and Jamison it was born in them.  Their energy and visions are now in a full transferal state that will guarantee an eternity of influence, respect, and the bettering of the human condition because of their creations - because of them having lived and for the global impact of their works.

What is greatness?  Having been around a few of the genius caliber and great ones, we at WST would define greatness as a two-part, inseparable seal between two sometimes competing entities.  You must have both parts.  It is the ability to rise to the occasion as an individual and then some, without hesitation or thought; and of equal importance is the ability to inspire others to be better than they knew they could be, and achieve their maximum potential.  It is not simply about individual talent or intelligence - the world has no shortage of either.  Well beyond the obvious unshakeable commitment to excellence, it is that ability to lead, and inspire others to feed on the juice of greatness and achieve.

The Prodigal Prince performed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Holder has choreographed pieces for many companies including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, for which he created “Prodigal Prince” (1968), a dance based on the interesting life of a Haitian painter, Hector Hyppolite.  The production has been brought back for another run with Holder again at the helm and Jamison now as the company’s artistic director.  Mr. Holder is a stickler for detail, both on and off the dance floor. Achieve  your potential greatness  - “The key to success is being on time,” he says as he stares into you with eyes that assess who you are in that instant.

During the rehearsal WST watched Holder with his traditional coffee in right hand - correct, praise, push and pull his dancers to their greatness.  “You are actors playing a role.  I don’t want to see dancers --- I want to see people...” - the master artist, belting out directions to his troupe. “Don’t think like dancers, think like human beings,” he further cajoles them. 

Erzulie & Hyppolite in The Prodigal Prince

Flamboyant, egotistical, humorous, supportive, demanding and good - real good  - at what he does, are all things that come to mind when you watch Geoffrey Holder conducting his dance orchestra through his symphony.  He knows exactly how many jokes and stories, and how  much seriousness, history,  fear and laughter he needs to add to this cocktail, to elicit the maximum performance from his extremely talented detail.

The visual, the sound, the colors, the music, the story and the dance under Holder’s leadership come together for a unique emotional and spiritual experience that cannot be justly articulated in words. It is the ultimate in storytelling and artistic music and dance expression, as it addresses all the human senses, desires, shortcomings and triumphs.

Ms. Jamison is a very special soul. In spite of all her accomplishments, intellect and talent, she is very humble. She will easily engage a complete stranger who has no idea who she is - as WST itself found out.  Beyond her artistic greatness there is the regal presence from Ms. Jamison that just flows effortlessly, and commands respect and friendship without a hint of bias or an air of superiority.  It is simply who she is - no artificial anything.  Regardless of the situation, her status does not preclude her identifying with others and/or her environs; there is a sparkle in her eye that immediately disarms you and warms your soul.  Like Holder, Jamison also inspires, expects and receives greatness from her troupes.

The Prodigal Prince performed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

“Isn’t he great?” Ms. Jamison would say to me a couple times in speaking of Holder on this day.  WST is now attending the final dress rehearsal at the New York City Center before that evening’s first performance of the limited run of the Prodigal Prince.  “I’m good... everything is going well” she says, giving an air of calmness and control which permeate all around and through everyone involved in the production.  It is an honor and a joy to watch Jamison and Holder confer, complement, support and ultimately inspire, demand and receive greatness from their dancers, by way of the astounding performances of their creations.  In fact, in an off moment they can be caught singing an impromptu duet together in perfect harmony!  Neither one is threatened by greatness outside of themselves, as both will unleash an abundance of compliments and well wishes on others.

The performances When Steel Talks saw and experienced are a tribute to the vision for Judith Jamison, Geoffrey Holder and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT). They were awe-inspiring and spiritually moving.  These performances tell the story of a people through their voice, culture and spirit that have to make their ancestors proud.  These two giants of the performing arts are the goal posts of their era.

This is probably the final time these two giants of the performing arts will interact with each other in their present capacities.  After twenty-one years Judith Jamison will step down as artistic director of the AAADT after the current season of shows is completed in the next two weeks.

Like Clive Bradley with Desperadoes Steel Orchestra performing Rebecca at Panorama, Max Roach, Miles Davis and Charlie “Bird” Parker performing together at the Village Vanguard, or Michael Jackson performing at Motown’s 25th anniversary celebration, there are moments in time and performances that just command attention and demand your presence if you are on the planet. These next few performances by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater are like magical moments.  Do yourself a favor and be there if you can; you will remember it forever.

click for When Steel Talks review of The Prodigal Prince 

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