Matthew Rushing brings “Uptown” to OCPAC
Matthew Rushing Performing in “Dancing Spirit”
Photo by Paul Kolnik
Matthew Rushing’s “Uptown”
Photo by Paul KolnikÂ
Brandon I. Brooks
Sentinel Entertainment Editor
In Celebration of Judith Jamison’s 20th Anniversary as Artistic Director with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Matthew Rushing, native of Inglewood, California choreographs an exclusive dance piece titled “”Uptown”.” The featured piece will be performed at the OCPAC (Orange County Performing Arts Center) March 2 – 7, 2010 in conjunction with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Matthew Rushing, a native of Inglewood, California is set to deliver his featured dance presentation “”Uptown””, in celebration of Judith Jamison 20th anniversary as artistic director with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT). The featured performance will be held at the Orange County Performing Arts Center (OCPAC) Segerstrom Hall, March 2 – 7, 2010.
“I was really honored simply because she (Judith Jamison) not only asked me to do a piece for the company, this is my second piece as far as choreography but this is my first solo chorography project,” said Rushing. “But what’s so special about it is she asked me to be part of her 20th anniversary celebrating 20 years of being the artistic director. So that made it even more special.”
Matthew Rushing began his dance training at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and always dreamed of performing for Alvin Ailey.
“She (Judith Jamison) hired me and actually the first time she saw me audition was in Berkeley, California,” said Rushing. “I flew to Berkeley to audition for the company only expecting like maybe a full scholarship but at that audition I got a full scholarship to the Ailey School as well as the second (II) company. And then it was later on, a year after me performing with the second company that I auditioned for Ms. Jamison. Once again in the same situation I wasn’t expecting a position in the first company because I felt I had at least two years in the second company. She hired me the first time I auditioned. Since then she has just helped mold me and guide me into the artist I am today.”
Matthew Rushing was named “one of this country’s greatest dancers” by The New Yorker. He is a recipient of a Spotlight Award and was named a Presidential Scholar in the Arts. He was a member of Ailey II for a year before joining the Company in 1992. During his career, he has appeared as a guest artist for galas in France, Russia, Canada and Hungary, and he performed for former President Bill Clinton’s inaugural presidential celebration. In 2003, Matthew Rushing performed at The White House State Dinner in honor of the President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki.
Just recently Rushing got a chance to perform for President Obama at the Kennedy Center. It was a special night for the fact that so many elements came together at once. As Rushing describes it, “It was almost overwhelming.” Overwhelming because Rushing, who started off in Inglewood (CA) had this dream to dance with the Alvin Ailey (American Dance Theater) was doing just that in front of America’s first black president. “I think that was one of the most pivotal moments of my life,” said Rushing.
Artistically, Rushing feels he has been raised through the organization (AAADT). It holds a very close place to his heart. “I’ve learned so much as a person and as an artist, through touring with the company, working underneath the leadership of Ms. Jamison, working with different choreographers and working alongside some of the best dancers in the world” said Rushing.” “It’s just been a lot of growth and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
“Uptown”, a tribute performance to the Harlem Renaissance celebrates the people of the era and the events that took place that made the Harlem Renaissance popular in world history.
There were three basic goals Rushing shared with the Sentinel that he focused on while creating the piece. “I wanted it to be educational, I wanted it to be entertaining and I wanted it to be authentic,” said Rushing.
With so much information to cover being that the Harlem Renaissance featured so many prominent individuals, Rushing had to narrow his view to a few key individuals that would represent the Harlem Renaissance properly. Rushing focused on historic figures such as visual artist Archibald (John) Motley who was a famous painter during the Harlem Renaissance. In addition to famous artists, “Uptown” keys in on famous intellects of that era such as W.E.B. Du Bois as well as Zora Neale Hurston.
Rushing tried to think of the performers who changed what music and performing is. He came up with Josephine Baker, Ethel Waters and Florence Mills.
“I thought it was very important to highlight people that maybe the majority of the public did not or probably never hear of like, Florence Mills,” said Rushing. “Then I went on to even events that happened during the Harlem Renaissance. I found out that rent parties were actually created in the Harlem Renaissance. So I even took a moment to highlight that. Then I took places like the Savoy Ballroom and also the Cotton Club I highlighted and of course for poets I chose Langston Hughes. So I tried to touch a little on everything.”
The next challenge was finding music for the “Uptown” performance. When it was time to clear the rights for the music, it was either too expensive or he just couldn’t find the composer. Rushing found a composer by the name of Ted Rosenthal, who taught at Julliard and the Manhattan School of music and they had a great collaboration because he totally understood the music of this time and was very interested in coming up with ideas and coming up with music. Rushing also got a chance to incorporate music from the actual Harlem Renaissance era like a selection from Nat King Cole’s Trio in addition to a piece written by Fatz Waller, “This Joint is Jumpin'”.
Altogether, “Uptown” features about 15 dancers. There is even a narrator by the name of Victor who leads the audience through the entire journey of “Uptown”. “I chose to have a narrator because like I said I wanted it to be educational,” said Rushing. “There were moments when you needed to hear facts, not just see movement or hear music. There were moments you actually needed to hear information so I had to take part in writing a script as well.”
In addition to Matthew Rushing’s “Uptown” piece, Alvin Ailey’s performance at the OCPAC will be the West Coast premieres of Ronald K. Brown’s Dancing Spirit, Judith Jamison’s new Among Us (Private Spaces: Public Places) and “Best of 20 Years,” program highlights from ballets that Ms. Jamison has welcomed to the Ailey repertory.
The Ailey will also perform a new production of Hymn, Ms. Jamison’s Emmy Award-winning homage to Alvin Ailey, and repertory favorite Suite Otis by George W. Faison to music by Otis Redding.
Mathew Rushing is ecstatic to be coming back home to Los Angeles where it all began with his dream to dance with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Rushing shared with the Sentinel that he wants to continue being an active part and empowering the culture he came from. Rushing has a strong passion for working with young people, particularly at the age when they are almost about to graduate from high school. Rushing enjoys helping students that are making that decision as far as what they want to do as a performer, even outside the performing arts but specifically with in the performing arts.
“There is a lot of information a young person needs in making that transition from leaving the classroom and going on to the stage,” said Rushing. “And I love working with young people at that moment. I would like to continue being with the company. This is my dream company. It’s part of who I am. The Ailey Company is all about outreach, giving back, doing master classes and lecture demonstrations and I would love to continue to be part of that and even make it larger in some form or fashion. I just feel like I want to help our people live to their greatest potential.”
For more information about the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater visit www.alvinailey.org or www.ocpac.org