Writer, poet and scholar Clint Smith III opens his TED Talk with “Growing up, I didn’t always understand why my parents made me follow the rules that they did.” He goes on to give examples of rules that many kids are expected to follow like finishing their homework or mowing the lawn. He goes on to explain how, even though his parents did not always explain what they expected of him and his siblings, he eventually learned that they were striving to teach them “to reconcile the tension between having my siblings and I understand the realities of the world while ensuring that we never accepted the status quo as inevitable”.
Now available on Vimeo, Long Beach-based choreographer and Artistic Director of Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre (NBDT), Nannette Brodie collaborated with dancer and former company member Dennzyl Green to create a powerful, timely and poignant dance video inspired by Smith’s extraordinary poem How to Raise a Black Son in America. Throughout the work we hear Smith giving voice to his writing, a rendition that only a man who had lived those words could convey them; his rich deep voice adding an extra layer of reality to the words.
Green delivers an understated but powerful performance combining his strong talents as a dancer with his acting ability. One can see that he is conscious of the camera at first but that quickly changes once he gets into the area where he is most comfortable – performing while moving.
Here are Brodie’s responses to a few of my queries.
Q. What was the genesis of this work?
A. The genesis came from seeing Clint Smith’s story/poem on TED Talks. Actually, my board president, Marryl Cahill, told me to watch the video as she felt his message was so articulate and she could see it develop into a dance. Therefore, I watched it many times over considering his choice of words, his rhythm of delivery, etc. I felt that his message was so powerful and straight forward in delivery that I knew the dancer should not try to keep that kind of pace but to contrast it in a slow deliberate movement path forward. I needed to get Clint Smith’s permission to use his poem through his foundation. Clint has made many books and speeches about his experiences and raising awareness of black people’s difficulties in America and ways to help solve these problems. After several weeks, Clint Smith’s foundation made a contract with me for 5 years use of the poem both for live and virtual performances, particularly for educational purposes. They have now seen the video and are very pleased.
Q. What was the process like working on it with Dennzyl?
A. First of all, Dennzyl is so talented and receptive, that working with him is so easy. At the first rehearsal, we did not move at all. We began with a talk about his own relationship with his father and with the older men in his early life. Who influenced him and helped him with his moral character? Who taught him how to be safe as he grew into adulthood? It was a very therapeutic talk as he truly let down his feelings. His uncle and minister probably made the greatest influence on him. I wanted his solo to come from his heart and soul. Next I then could envision a simple single passage in one direction with the chair as the prop. I did not want the movement to be busy, but simple with specific gestures emphasized. Dennzyl then began to improvise and we started selecting movement. He then really embraced and refined the movement. It was a piece that we both fed into the process in development. Our videographer, Homer Dulu, has worked on 3 projects with us and really understands our needs. We are very happy with his expertise. Also, Nik Kuo, our editor is an Emmy award winning editor and amazes all of us with his musicality, technique and sheer love of his work.
Q. How long will it be available on Vimeo?
A. We will honor the contract with Clint Smith’s foundation and it will be available for 5 years. I am trying to get this video into the hands of many people who can share this on a wide scale. It has been sent to news channels, celebrity writers, actors and has been entered into two film festivals so far.
Brodie added that she hopes to present this solo in front of a live audience. “Dennzyl has now recently moved to Denver and will be dancing with Cleo Parker Robinson’s Dance Company. We will miss him so much,” she said.
How to Raise a Black Son in America was choreographed by Nannette Brodie and Dennzyl Green, the Camera Work was by Homer Dulu, Editing by Nik Kuo, and Produced by Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre and South Coast Dance Arts Alliance.
About the Artists
NBDT was in 1986 which makes it one of the longest running dance companies in the Los Angeles area. That same year Nannette Brodie became the Director of Dance at Golden West College, a community college located in Huntington Beach, CA. She trained with and worked with Murray Louis, Janice Dance and Alwin Nikolais. Brodie is an alumnus of the Nikolais-Louis Dance Lab in New York and performed in LA with The Moving Company. She received the Else Loudon Solo Award for her choreography at the Palm Desert “Dancing Under the Stars” Festival in 2002, the “Daffy” Award from Dance in the Desert Festival in 2007, as well as recognition for Outstanding Woman in Arts and Culture for Long Beach and Distinguished Arts Educator for Huntington Beach, CA. Throughout the years Brodie has also worked very closely with military veterans.
Dennzyl Green has been a dance artist for over ten years and is full of excitement about what the future has in store for him. He is a graduate of California State University, Fullerton with a Bachelor of Arts, Dance degree. During his college career, he had the opportunity to choreograph for two Fall Dance Theatre Concerts and Santa Rosa High School in Santa Rosa, California. He danced with Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre from 2017-2021. Post-graduation, he has been a part of three dance films Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre has produced and choreographed one of them, Elucidators . Presently, he resides in Denver, Colorado where he is dancing with Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble- Cleo II.
To view How to Raise a Black Son in America Free online, click HERE.
To visit the Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre website, click HERE.
To learn more about Clint Smith, click HERE.
To watch Clint Smith’s TED Talk, click HERE.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Dennzyl Green in How to Raise a Black Son in America – Photo courtesy of NBDT