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‘Avatar’ choreographer dances to Three Stages

Company dancers perform "Global Village," a piece choreographed by Lula Washington. The company comes to Three Stages on Oct. 5. Photo by Eric Mesiyah McGinnis
Company dancers perform "Global Village," a piece choreographed by Lula Washington. The company comes to Three Stages on Oct. 5. Photo by Eric Mesiyah McGinnis

Founded in 1980 in the inner city area of South Los Angeles, Lula Washington Dance Theatre is composed of athletic, young dancers in the tradition of Alvin Ailey and African-rooted dance.

“As a choreographer and company director, Lula Washington is doing something more than right” (Anna Kisselgoff, New York Times).

“In inviting three dance companies to Three Stages as part of the Sacramento World Music and Dance Festival, I wanted to provide three distinct looks at the diverse dance talent of California,” said Executive Director Dave Pier. “It is an excellent opportunity for families to experience a wide range of dance over one exciting weekend.”

Joining LWDT at Three Stages next month, Oct. 5-7, is Danza Floricanto/USA and Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre is committed to reflecting the African-American experience through movement. Lula Washington, the founder and principal choreographer for LWDT, gives the company its special “voice” with her commitment to work that explores social issues, and African-American history and culture. The company blends modern dance with other movement idioms such as hip-hop, jazz, African, ballet, performance art, acting, as well as singing.

The company also performs choreography by Donald McKayle, Christopher Huggins, Katherine Dunham, Rennie Harris, Donald Byrd, Louis Johnson, Rudy Perez, and by its current and former dancers: Tamica Washington-Miller, Jamal Story, and Ken Morris, among others. Based in Los Angeles, the company appeared at the John F. Kennedy Center’s Masterpieces of African-American Choreography Festival and has danced at the Virginia Arts Festival, Jacob’s Pillow, the Miami Beach Dance Festival, the Playboy Jazz Festival, Lincoln Center Out of Doors and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

Washington grew up in the Nickerson Gardens Housing Projects in Watts, Calif. She was inspired to dance after her junior college dance teacher took her to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Initially rejected by the UCLA dance program for being too old at age 22 to start dance training, Washington appealed that decision, was admitted, and went on to become one of UCLA’s most successful dance graduates.

In addition to LWDT, Washington maintains a community-based dance school in South Los Angeles that offers scholarships and professional dance training for inner-city youth. Washington was honored for her community work with the Minerva Award, presented by former California First Lady Maria Shriver. Other awards include: the Spelman College National Alumni Association’s Sisters Award; the National Education Association’s Carter G. Woodson Memorial Award; the Los Angeles Women’s Theater Festival’s Integrity Award, the 2010 Accolades Award and many others.

How did she come to choreograph “Avatar?”
Lula’s husband and co-founder of LWDT, Erwin Washington, describes their introduction.

“In James Cameron’s office in Santa Monica, Lula sat on the floor in their first meeting and listened as Cameron explained that the film was a labor of love which he was funding out of his own pocket at the time. He asked Lula how the Na’vi people on Pandora might greet each other. Lula thought for a while and then put her fingers to her forehead and then flicked them out in Cameron’s direction. As she did this, she said ‘eye see you.’ She was referring to her third eye being aware of the director.

Cameron was so happy that he hired Lula on the spot. The greeting appears in the film … Lula helped by bringing in 10 members of LWDT to the set. She and her dancers donned intricate motion-capture suits and begin doing dances and more. They ended up riding the flying reptiles in the battle scenes, and working in ritual and ceremonial moments. Several dancers worked as body doubles for leading characters including Sam Worthington, the star of the film. Our daughter, Tamica, doubled as Mo’oat, the queen mother of the Na’vi.”

The program includes Global Village, which premiered last year in China; it pulses to the driving Afro-beat of Nigeria’s Fela Kuti. Drawing on African; Chinese; Native American; Brazilian; Russian and African-American movement idioms, it’s a 16-minute celebration of cultural diversity. In We Wore the Mask “Ms. Washington displays a sure theatricality that is captivating”  Roslyn Sulcras, New York Times. The Healers is set to a score by Phillip Glass and Senegalese drums; it explores rituals of purification.

“It is a reminder that purity and being rooted in the earth is the beginning of healing,” according to Lula.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre will perform in Three Stages at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 5. Tickets are $19 to $29. Premium tickets are available for $39; student & children tickets are $12. Tickets may be purchased online at threestages.net or from Three Stages ticket office at (916) 608-6888 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and two hours before show time. Three Stages is located on the west side of Folsom Lake College campus in Folsom, facing East Bidwell Street.

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Posted by on Sep 14 2012.
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