Mention the Harlem Renaissance, and those who know their history would be able to tell you a little or a lot about that vibrant period in New York’s black social and cultural life.
But bring up the New York Renaissance – also known as the Renaissance Big Five or the Rens – and you’d be likely to stump anyone who isn’t steeped in basketball lore.
Playwright and director Layon Gray shares the story of an extraordinary team in his play “Kings of Harlem,” in part because of his belief that (as he has one of his characters remark twice) “… history has the right to live.”
Now in its 46th season, Miami’s M Ensemble is presenting “Kings of Harlem” as the first production in its new home at the $5.6 million Sandrell Rivers Theater. Located in the Audrey M. Edmonson Transit Village on NW Seventh Avenue near I-95, the handsome, state-of-the art facility is also home to Fantasy Theatre Factory, which operates the theater. The main space is a flexible black-box theater, configured by M Ensemble set and lighting designer Mitchell Ost for this show to look like a basketball court, with the 124 audience members seated along the sides.
Staged with powerful simplicity by the playwright, “Kings of Harlem” uses projections of historical photos along with narration by actor Ray Lockhart to provide context and facts about the remarkable all-black pro team, which was founded several years before the better-known Harlem Globetrotters. Set during the Rens’ groundbreaking championship run in 1938-39, the play also pays homage to the team’s home in Harlem’s black-owned-and-operated Renaissance Casino and Ballroom, where dancing would follow the games.
What transforms “Kings of Harlem” from a simple history lesson into a compelling play are the scenes involving the team, the flesh-and-blood humor, conflict and inspiring story brought to life by the actors portraying the players and their determined coach.
As Edwin “Pops” Coffey, Allan Lewis is a motivator similar to any number of real-life and fictional coaches. This fine, accomplished actor conveys both discipline and warmth, as well as compassion for an angry young player whose life was shaped by unspeakable tragedy.
Marquise Rogers plays that young man, Clem Johnson, orphaned in Florida at the age of 8 when his parents were horrifically lynched in front of his eyes during the Rosewood Massacre.As the team’s veteran star Jimmy “JoJo” Robinson, André L. Gainey is a man who takes a paternal interest in Clem because of a tragedy of his own. The testy dynamic between the would-be mentor and the furious, damaged younger man is the emotional heart of “Kings of Harlem.”
The other actors, to a man, capture the distinctive qualities of their characters: Chris Boldon as the garrulous, likeable Nat Dozier; Isaac Beverly as Leroy Amos and Stevenson Jean as Dee Dee Witt, teammates at odds over a woman; Scott Wesley as the chiseled, quiet Howard Nash. Costume designer Peter A. Lovello has created a series of vintage uniforms for the performers, though their 21st century underwear (visible during quick onstage changes) doesn’t help maintain the period illusion.
Oh, and did we mention that these guys can shoot? LeBron James and Steph Curry don’t need to lose sleep, but the actors don’t miss many baskets. Gray has them do fast-paced drills and, even more memorably, rhythmically bounce basketballs in a melding of sport and dance.
From the team’s founding in 1923 to its folding in 1949, the Rens won 2,588 games and lost 539, at one point winning 88 consecutive games. In 1963, the Rens were inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar explored the Rens and their legacy in his 2007 book “On the Shoulders of Giants.” “Kings of Harlem,” though more modest in scale, is both moving and enlightening – and an impressive way for M Ensemble to launch the newest chapter in its long history.
‘Kings of Harlem’ by Layon Gray, M Ensemble production at the Sandrell Rivers Theater, 6101 NW Seventh Ave., Miami; 8:00 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3:00 p.m. Sunday, through Jan. 29; tickets $25 ($20 students and seniors); 786-773-3161 or www.themensemble.com.
“What does it mean to belong? What does it mean to not want to belong?” These are questions that choreographer Reggie Wilson contemplates in his provocative piece “CITIZEN,“ which makes its M..
If even a modicum of redemption can be forged from the hellish after-effects of gun violence, we must listen to the communities most affected by the violence. To this end, “Trigger,” a hip-ho..
Celebrating 35 years is an amazing achievement for any dance company in Miami, but especially one founded in a decade better known for its ties to drugs than to the arts. Momentum Dance Compa..
For Tigertail Productions, April is the month of fire. Like their WATER Festival in 2016, this month’s FIRE Festival celebrates a single element in multiple art forms, including dance, visual..
During the month of April the organizers of the seventh iteration of the O Miami Poetry Festival intend every resident of Miami Dade county to encounter a poem or – even better – write one! An..
As the “home-grown” sweetheart of Miami City Ballet, Patricia Delgado is having her final performances this season before leaving the city and the company she loves to move to New York City.H..
Even people who can’t find Argentina on a map and believe tangos only happen in Paris know La Cumparsita’s iconic four beat opening. Like a bar’s last call, La Cumparsita tells tango dancers ..
Miami City Ballet will conclude its season this week with a rich selection of repertory pieces: two from Balanchine, in very expressive but distinct modes, and one from modern-dance master Pa..
Ballet Flamenco La Rosa’s studio evokes the feel of a tablao in Spain. The strumming of the guitar, the rapid-fire rhythms of footwork against the floor, and the soft voice of the singer reac..
Miami choreographer Augusto Soledade has been a fixture in the local dance world since he arrived here in 2004. His cast has shifted over the years and he continues to challenge himself artis..
In one duet, two dancers use their bodies as counterweights, springing forth from each other’s bodies with explosive power. In another, dancers form a sharp line before torsos undulate and fa..
Teacher, choreographer and activist Dale Andree is known for her ability to merge activism with dance. Andree founded and directs National Water Dance, a site-specific project that joins danc..
In 2016, Philadelphia-based Koresh Dance company crossed their 25-year mark. To celebrate, the company returns to Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts with a 25th anniversary..
From singers like Joan Baez to poets like Maya Angelou to anonymous knitters of pink pussy hats, creative women have played an essential role in this country as agitators and activists. Likew..
When Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami (DDTM) takes the stage this weekend, it will present a program rich in the cultural milieu of Miami. Co-founders Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra i..
It is an awe-inspiring experience to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancers perform. They are well trained dancers, athletes and artists. Not often known is that some of the dance..
Back for an 8th season in Miami, the legendary Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater packs the house every year. With Liberty City hometown hero Robert Battle in his fifth year, we have many rea..
Awash in sunlight, around 50 women stand in a circle on the rooftop performance space of Casa Gaia in Old Havana, Cuba, as part of a belly-dance festival. Biodanza facilitator Karen Rodríguez..
Choreographer Jeanguy Saintus works primarily from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but his creative work has global appeal. He is a pioneering artist who blends Haiti’s traditional music and dance alo..
New life for a legacy ballet—a veritable choreographer-magnet—created a great buzz about Miami City Ballet’s third program this season. But at the Arsht Center for the Performing ..
Who doesn’t delight in fairies? Miami City Ballet, for the success of its third program of the season, is certainly banking on one. And, instead of wielding a magic wand, she comes eager to p..
Transgendered performance artist Scott Turner Schofield is a collector of stories. Growing up in the South, the tales that were told about the gay and trans community were the ugliest kind of..
The Miami Theater Center in Miami Shores is giving experimental dancer-choreographer Lazaro Godoy the opportunity to interweave his visual arts and performance passions in ArMOUR, a multimedi..
The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet artistic director Tom Mossbrucker and executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty have thrilled audiences world wide with stimulating and exciting performances, and Miam..
The future came a long time ago. That impression arose in two forward-pointing yet decades-old company premieres on Miami City Ballet’s second program of the season. In the opening performanc..
Tigertail’s ScreenDance Miami festival is now in its fourth year. One of the few festivals in the country dedicated solely to movement for film and video, ScreenDance aims high. The goal: a f..
The white walls and well-trod floor of a light-pierced studio at Miami City Ballet enclose a charmed space—a field of incalculable energy—as sets of coupled dancers rehearse, in q..
This year’s TransAtlantic Festival features local dance music stars, a Malian guitarist known as “the Hendrix of the Sahara,” and something unique: a Haitian rara band comprised entirely of women...
If the political movement that saw its birth after the November elections is in the market for a composer to set the score for its many marches, Frederic Rzewski might be a strong contender f..
In a combo that promises to be both sublime and rip-roaring, three generations of Cuban and Cuban diaspora musicians come together this Saturday at The Miami-Dade County Auditorium to celebra..
Despite an end to the “wet foot, dry foot” policy and other changes in the Florida-Cuba dynamic, Global Cuba Fest 2017 will continue to satiate the souls of South Floridians with a month-long..
Guitarist, composer and producer Josemi Carmona embodies the spirit of Nuevo Flamenco. Rooted firmly in tradition, he has proven a restless, curious artist, ignoring the boundaries of genres ..
Following an intense National YoungArts Week, the signature program held annually in Miami, YoungArts is proud to announce their 2017 regional programs that will expand the offerings from New..
Seduced by the jazz in his dad’s music collection, a kid from Perth, Western Australia, takes up the saxophone at age 13. He grows up, moves to the United States and becomes a star. Dreams do..
Half way through his set at the North Beach Bandshell, singerDavid Crosby (http://www.davidcrosby.com/), 75, who has been to a festival or two in his illustrious career, paused between songs..
Florida in February has its own magic: gorgeous light, cooler temperatures, clear skies and soft sea breezes. Now, imagine those breezes carrying the moaning strains of Esperanza Spalding’s b..
No hay que viajar a otro país para disfrutar en vivo de la música cubana del momento, la más innovadora, la que le da la vuelta al mundo. Basta con asistir a Global Cuba Fest, aquí mismo, en ..
Nadie como el bailarín y coreógrafo español Antonio Gades para describir el arte que lo hizo internacionalmente famoso cuando vivía: “Un extracto de fuego y de veneno, eso es el flamenco”. ..
Desde Las troyanas de Eurípides hasta “Guernica” de Picasso, o de la canción “Blowing in the Wind” de Bob Dylan al diseño de las gorras rosadas que llevaron miles de mujeres en las protestas ..
En un discurso de 1977, el escritor argentino Jorge Luis Borges desmintió la idea de que la ceguera fuera un mundo de oscuridad cuando describió su propia “modesta ceguera”. Hablaba de ciert..
En su discurso de recibimiento del Premio Nobel, el poeta chileno Pablo Neruda afirmó que el poeta no es un "pequeño dios." De hecho expresó que el mejor poeta “es el hombre que nos entrega e..
En la cultura yoruba, y sobre todo en sus manifestaciones caribeñas como la afrocubana, las historias contadas oralmente por generaciones ocupan un lugar esencial. Esas historias, muchas de e..
En la serie artística Out in the Tropics, la tarima no discrimina, la sensibilidad de los intérpretes es inclusiva y todo público es bienvenido. Producción de la entidad local sin fines d..
El flamenco es una música de fusión. La tradición es de sobrevivencia, de cambio constante y adaptación al lugar y los tiempos. Mientras el sonido puede ser diferente, el espíritu de Nuevo Fl..
La problemática del cambio climático está que arde. Sobre todo en un estado como la Florida, en primera fila para sufrir consecuencias drásticas. Llegar al público con este mensaje e inspirar..