Tuesday, October 29, 2013

James Brown Gets a Taste of Lafayette, Louisiana

In a heaven-sent collaboration, the city of Lafayette, Louisiana has supported a fresh new touring show, “James Brown: Get on the Good Foot, A Celebration in Dance.”  A review of James Brown’s musical funk brought to life by a troupe of exceptional dancers, this show was built in the studios of Lafayette, 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, and fueled by jambalaya and shrimp gumbo.

Lafayette Parties with pre-show Zydeco Band at Apollo Theater

How James Brown got to Louisiana

Born, as he claimed, on May 3, 1933, Brown was from South Carolina, not Louisiana.  And the James Brown project actually originated with the Apollo Theater more than three years ago, said Executive Producer Mikki Shepard, who addressed the audience during the show’s New York run. The reinterpretation of his music was inspired by his 80th birthday, the upcoming 80th anniversary of the Apollo, and the 50th anniversary of Brown’s most successful album, “Live from the Apollo.”  In looking for funding, the Apollo turned to Lafayette, Louisiana and found the financial and in-kind support they needed.

In their 10-day workshop in Lafayette, a city known for its cultural festivals, green markets and terrific Cajun cuisine, the troupe principals gave master classes to local dance companies, did school visits and shared technique with regional instructors.  Students from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette did videos of their workshops for the Apollo’s website, and grade school students served as the audience at dress rehearsals. In supporting the arts, the community of Lafayette and the Convention and Visitors Commission have benefited from exposure to a new audience, winning many fans in the process.

James Brown Inspired Today’s Music Superstars

During the 60s and 70s, Brown was a towering figure in live performance, influencing Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Prince and many others in their stage styles. His trembling energy, rhythmic pumping moves and flamboyant style of attire never detracted from his high-energy rendition of soulful music.  Chart-topping hits included “Superbad,” “Sex Machine,” “Give It Up or Turn It Loose,” “Get on the Good Foot” and dozens more recognizable tunes that any audience of any age will enjoy, even today. James Brown recordings largely written by him, have been sampled in more than 2,000  hip hop songs in the past decade.  

That he was a wildly innovative and risqué dancer and dresser contributed to the idea of illustrating his music with movement and costumes, and this Apollo Theater production was born.

Up until his death in 2007, James Brown was quick to credit himself as the “Godfather of Soul” and the “Hardest Working Man in Show Business.”

Having seen “Get on a Good Foot” for myself, I think he can share that credit with Phildanco. The highly prized Philadelphia Dance Company arrived with a wonderful cast of dancers whose 12 numbers display boundless energy. With music and commentary from James Brown himself, a stellar crew of choreographers led by Otis Sallid interpret his lyrics and life stages in movements that range from meticulously executed backup dance routines to solos to break dancing and more.

Lobby Mural at Apollo Theater

Get on the Good Foot Going on the Road

After an artistic residency in Atlanta and 10 days in Lafayette, “Get on the Good Foot” did four shows, family specials and tutoring workshops for locals at New York’s Apollo Theater. From New York, the show travels to:
  •  Baton Rouge Community College on November 7
  • Georgia State University in Atlanta on November 9
  • Los Angeles Music Center from February 14-16, 2014.  
Dance lovers should not miss it, no matter where you go to catch it.

Meanwhile Lafayette, Louisiana is busy supporting local artists and artisans, running daily Green Markets, bayou tours, weekly cajun Cooking classes and almost nightly live performances of zydeco or cajun music. As Mikki Shepard told the sold-out crowd in New York, “We are so grateful to Lafayette, Louisiana,” adding, “You’ve got to go there, their food is incredible.”

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