Impressions of: "James Brown: Get on The Good Foot, A Celebration in Dance" at The Apollo Theater
Philadanco, Ephrat Asherie, Derick K. Grant and Aakash Odedra honor the "Godfather of Soul"
October 22, 2013
For those of us who lived through the ‘60s-‘70s reign of James Brown as “Godfather of Soul,” it doesn’t take more than the first few licks of one of his recordings to get our backbones slipping, our shoulders twitching, our heads bobbing to the funky beat. The man quit the planet in 2006, but memories of a proud, highly disciplined, prodigiously gifted artist stay strong in the way our own bodies instantly–and I do mean instantly--respond to his dynamic music.
Brown made music to last. And as keen observers and longtime fans have noted, traces of his artistry survive and nourish performers that the world craves. Dance scholar Brenda Dixon Gottschild cites his influence on Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson and Prince. To that stellar list, let me add Nigeria’s Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Philadelphia-based hip hop choreographer Rennie Harris hails Brown as “the godfather of hip-hop, from his walk to his talk, his dance to his stance”–testimony that totally works for me. Even the serious avantgardists like Bill T. Jones and Ralph Lemon, who calls Brown “more hardcore than Sam and Dave,” continue to invoke his awesome name.
And so do the folks at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, where Brown ruled the stage for many a year. Their new touring production, James Brown: Get on The Good Foot, A Celebration in Dance, honors Brown’s 80th birthday and the 50th anniversary of the release of his album, Live at the Apollo. The show premiered at the Apollo on October 22 and heads to Baton Rouge (November 7) and Atlanta (November 9). Lucky Los Angelenos can catch it next year (February 14-16). But let’s hope its journey does not end there.
Conceived and directed by Otis Sallid, the non-stop, ninety-minute performance unites numerous dance riffs on Brown’s style and times, taken at breakneck speed. World-renowned Philadanco provides the magnetic force holding the production together. Adaptable and endlessly energetic, these sleek dancers tackle works by Sallid, Souleymane Badolo, Thang Dao, Abdel Salaam, Camille A. Brown and Ronald K. Brown in a range of 60's/’70s looks from Flower Power to Black Power, bringing the nostalgia, humor and communal, good-time sexiness. Ron Brown’s septet, Think, stands out for, oddlly enough, looking exactly like any number of dances in Ron Brown’s repertory. It’s crazy how smoothly choreographer Brown’s familiar movement aesthetic slips right into musician Brown’s oeuvre–particular in the song “Get on the Good Foot.” The Philly ensemble does a delicious impression of Ron Brown’s regular dance crew, Evidence.
Other entertaining bits showcased Bessie-nominated hip hop dance star Ephrat Asherie; Bessie-winning tap great Derick K. Grant, and Aakash Odedra, a contemporary dancer from Britain, trained in Kathak and Bharatnatyam. Since most of us already know and justifiably love Grant and Asherie, let’s turn special attention to Odedra who, if he was not before, surely will be on the Bessie radar now.
His solo, Ecstasy–set to “Get on the Good Foot (Parts 1 & 2)” and “Make It Funky (Part 1)” with arrangement and additional music by Ronobir Lahiri–married classical Indian dance to Brown’s music in a way that expressed lyrical, luxuriant sinuosity without denying percussive assertiveness and–gasp–tossing in those knee drops reminiscent of Brown in high passion. He reminded us that Brown’s physical grace–that of a champion boxer or a martial artist–more than matched his audacity.
Movement rippled through Odedra’s supple core as energy radiated from the circles and swirls his body wrote across space, a dialogue with external and internal rhythms. With his flowing costume in black and royal purple trimmed in gold, Odedra was an enchanting vision that made the audience hold its collective breath and then cheer long and wildly.
Follow Eva Yaa Asantewaa on Twitter at @magickaleva