With its melting pot demographics, Civil Rights credentials and its place as home to major historically black colleges, Atlanta always offers up an abundance of interesting cultural choices during Black History Month.
This February is no different, though of special note this year are several programs that take inspiration from the Harlem Renaissance, that blossoming of African-American arts and intellectualism that began in the 1920s.
Among them are Matthew Rushing’s “Uptown,” an Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater premiere at the Fox Theatre about that golden era of black arts, set to the music of Fats Waller, Eubie Blake and others. The Atlanta History Center also honors one of the Harlem Renaissance’s great writers, Zora Neale Hurston, selecting her 1937 novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” for its Big Read event. And the Rialto Center for the Arts brings two programs highlighting great artists of that era: Dayton Contemporary Dance Company performing choreography inspired by Jacob Lawrence’s paintings, and Dee Dee Bridgewater singing a Billie Holiday tribute.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
As ever, Alvin Ailey looks back as it presses forward. “Uptown,” the first solo choreography for the New York-based company by 18-year member Rushing, isn’t the only dance in a nostalgic mood in the seven varying Fox programs Feb. 18-21.
The modern dance company is celebrating Judith Jamison’s 20th year as artistic director, and its tour also brings the premiere of “Dancing Spirit,” Ronald K. Brown’s tribute to Jamison’s vision. Another dance, “Best of 20 Years,” excerpts some of the nearly 100 ballets that she commissioned or revived in the Ailey repertory.
But the must-see is Rushing’s “glittering love letter to the Harlem Renaissance,” as New York Times critic Gia Kourlas phrased it in a December review.
“I want this piece to be fun, to be a celebration of the whole period and the heroes of that era,” Rushing says in the Ailey program, of his nine-scene dance that moves to the sounds of Paul Robeson singing, W.E.B. DuBois talking and a reading from Hurston’s “Their Eyes.”
Feb. 18-21 at the Fox Theatre. Tickets start at $20 via Ticketmaster, 1-800-982-2787, www.ticketmaster.com . At the Coca-Cola Family Matinee, 2 p.m. Feb. 20, get one half-price ticket with each full-price ticket purchased.
Dance, jazz at Rialto
The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company brings “colôr-ógrăphy, n. the dances of Jacob Lawrence,” to the Rialto on Feb. 20.
One of the three dances inspired by Lawrence, best known for his 60-panel “Migration Series” documenting the movement of rural Southern blacks to the industrial North between the World Wars, is Rennie Harris’ “Jacob’s Ladder.” (Tickets: $32-$56.)
And in “A Celebration of ‘Lady Day’” on Feb. 13, jazz vocalist Bridgewater brings to life the music of Billie Holiday ($35-$59).
Rialto Center for the Arts. Tickets available at the Rialto box office, 404-413-9849, www.rialtocenter.org .
The Literary Center at the Margaret Mitchell House selected Hurston’s seminal 1937 novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” for its second annual Big Read event.
The Atlanta History Center division is encouraging folks to read the Harlem Renaissance writer’s most popular work by March 16, whether solo or part of a book or discussion group.
The history center is launching related programs beginning with a Harlem Renaissance kick-off party on Feb. 17. For more information and to register, visit www.atlantahistorycenter.com/bigread .
Exhibit of portraits
The faces of the famous, from a lost-in-song Sarah Vaughan to a reflective Toni Morrison, command attention in the Atlanta History Center exhibit, “Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits.”
One of the quieter, yet equally compelling images among the 69 on view is of Alain Locke, the Howard University scholar whose 1925 anthology, “The New Negro,” is credited as a shaping influence of the Harlem Renaissance. The sepia-toned 1941 portrait of a three-piece-suited Locke, staring intently into the camera, conveys dignity, intelligence and humility.
Through April 25. 130 W. Paces Ferry Road. $15 adults, $12 ages 65 and older or students 13 and older, $10 ages 4-12, free under 4. 404-814-4000, www.atlantahistorycenter.com/motto .
Photos of 3 leaders
“Bobby, Martin and John: Once Upon an American Dream,” an exhibit drawn from the archives of Look magazine photographer Stanley Tretick, continues at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site visitors center.
The show explores the public and private lives of the Atlanta civil rights leader, President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
“The exhibition is both art and history, revealing telling moments in the lives of three leaders of the 1960s and the changes, too, in photojournalism and how politicians are covered,” notes the AJC’s Jamie Gumbrecht on her accessAtlanta.com blog Inside Access.
Through Feb. 28. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Free. 450 Auburn Ave. 404-331-5190, www.nps.gov/malu .
‘Dreaming Between Worlds’
The Hammonds House Museum opens “Dreaming Between Worlds,” a show with works by Nigerian painter, batik artist and musician Tunde Odunlade, on Feb. 14.
“My images draw on the rich history of Yoruba art, culture, modern-day life in Nigeria, and my passion for music,” Odunlade says.
Through April 11. 503 Peeples St. 404-612-0484, www.hammonds_house.org .
“An American Consciousness: Robin Holder’s Mid-Career Retrospective,” an examination of three decades of work by the New York printmaker, is being presented by the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art.
In the 65-piece show, Holder, the daughter of an African-American Christian father and a white Russian-American Jewish mother, addresses themes including immigration, racism, jazz, the Holocaust and child labor.
Through May 15, in the Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Academic Center, 350 Spelman Lane. Suggested donation: $3. www.spelman.edu/museum .
Emory Jazz Festival
The highlight of the Emory Annual Jazz Festival is a Feb. 12 concert featuring Grammy-winning bassist John Clayton, pianist Gary Motley and drummer Herlin Riley.
Clayton also will be an Emory Coca-Cola Artist-in-Residence on Feb. 11-12, teaching and performing in classroom sessions open to the public (free; check www.arts.emory.edu/events). Motley also directs the Emory Big Band in a free Big Band Night program at 8 p.m. Feb. 13.
Clayton concert: 8 p.m. Feb. 12. $15, $10 non-Emory students and ages 65 and up. Emerson Concert Hall, Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, 1700 N. Decatur Road. 404-727-5050, www.arts.emory.edu .
Imagine It: The Children’s Museum of Atlanta offers Black History Month programming daily though Feb. 12, including the Imaginators performance troupe bringing to life famous African-Americans in “Treasure Chest of Georgia Heroes.” The “It’s Music Time” program features songs by Ray Charles, Gladys Knight and others who filled the airwaves of WAOK-AM and the Royal Peacock club on Auburn Avenue.
Free with general admission: $12.50; 2 and under, free. 275 Centennial Olympic Park Drive. 404-659-5437, www.childrensmuseumatlanta.org/visitors/calendar .
Stories from African and African-American traditions will be spun during the Black History Storytelling at Callanwolde program for all ages at 7 p.m. today.
Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, 980 Briarcliff Road, Atlanta. $1-$3. 404-872-5338, www.callanwolde.org .
South Africa’s Soweto Gospel Choir, who have harmonized at Desmond Tutu’s 75th and Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations, comes to the Fox Theatre on Feb. 25 as part of the Delta International Series. The group is known for colorful costumes, rhythmic dance moves and a repertoire blending traditional and contemporary music.
8 p.m. Feb. 25. 660 Peachtree St. Tickets, $35-$65, at the Fox Theatre box office or Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com
Director Kenny Leon is giving Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” a “multi-cultural reinvention.” The Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company’s staging of the drama, set in fictional Gover’s Corners, N.H., is a tale of one New England town amid a time of change in the early 20th century. It opens Feb. 21.
Through March 21 at Southwest Arts Center, 915 New Hope Road. Tickets, $20-$35, via 1-877-725-8849, www.truecolorstheatre.org .
The Gwinnett Choral Guild’s “From Darkness Into Light” program on Feb. 21 is an “all-American concert” that includes spirituals and freedom songs. The 50-voice community choir performs at Clayton State University’s Spivey Hall.
4 p.m. Feb. 21. $10-$25. 2000 Clayton State Blvd., Morrow. 404-223-9962, www.spiveyhall.org .
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