May 02, 2013
By Troy Tieuel
When driving down Centinela, south from Florence, on the left side stands a stretch of grassy knolls and concrete pathways, lined with palms and unassuming greenery. Occasionally, kids will be seen running, playing, jumping, and living. What is in the future for those innocent faces and happy smiles? Glancing to the side, at the graffiti scrawled walls that read of gang slogans, it can be assumed that a limited future in in store for those inquisitive youths, searching for outlets for their boundless energy, darting between trees and running through the rolling landscape. It’s hard for some to imagine that this sanctuary, surrounded by bustling city and roaring traffic contains a future lawyer, doctor or artist. It’s easy to assume the worst.
That stretch of land is called Edward Vincent Park, named after the first African-American mayor of Inglewood. If you looked back in time, back before the renaming in January of 1997, when the park was commonly known simply as ‘Centinela Park,’ one of those children that might be seen standing thespian-like on a bench, jumping, spinning, or dancing, might have been a future Alvin Ailey Dancer named Matthew Rushing.
In a brown, wood framed building containing a modest stage and seating for about 100, stands the Inglewood Playhouse, the place were a young, Jr. High School student first discovered his interest for the theater arts. Describing his time spent doing plays at the Playhouse with dance instructor Kashmir Blake, Matthew states, “At that point, learning about my history through the arts and being able to perform and articulate through a gift I was given, I felt like that was a peak in my life. I remember, I felt really complete, even as a kid, you know, when you feel like you haven’t learned that much? I felt like that was exactly where I was supposed to be. It was almost like the moment that you fall in love for the first time. [At the Inglewood Playhouse] I fell in love with performing and the performing arts.”
An Inglewood native, Rushing attended Latijera Elementary, and the Los Angeles County High School for the Performing Arts, where he honed his talents as a performer. Rushing describes himself as a “student of dance” who admits to getting started in dance by taking classes and training as a dancer after he was exposed to theater at Latijera and eventually the Inglewood Playhouse. Rushing’s first dance teacher Kashmir Blake, created choreography for students with little to no dance training and prepared them for performances. “She [Blake] knew we had passion,” explained Rushing, “and she knew we were moldable.”
At the tender age of 12, working with Blake taught Rushing how to use dance to express deep, emotional topics such as drug addiction and how drugs effect you and those around you. This training in performance arts and dance lead him to be accepted in the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and receive in-depth, classroom instruction in classical ballet, modern, jazz and training in ethnic dances such as East Indian. “When I look back, I’m really grateful for that [the time spent with Blake],” said Rushing, “Because I had a huge understanding of performing, first.”
“I think the discipline of dancing is one of the most important disciplines, I feel, as far as getting control of mind, body and soul,” says Rushing, “I say that, because I often tell allot of people that even if you’re not interested in becoming a dancer, taking dance is very important, because it teaches you certain skills and certain ideas about will power that you probably wouldn’t learn doing anything else. With dance, you have this idea of being disciplined physically, but you have to add your emotions to it. You have to add expression to it.”
Rushing goes on to describe how dancers must combine both the physical aspects of being an athlete, the discipline of bodily control, and willpower with being a creative artist in order to be truly successful at performing at the highest level. “You see these athletes…you see these people jumping and spinning and turning, and using their bodies in an extreme way. At the same time, they are speaking to your heart,” said Rushing in a phone interview while preparing for the Ailey shows in Berkley California, “That is what so awesome and beautiful about the art of dance.”
Joining Alvin Ailey Dance Company was a defining moment for Rushing who, although he had to work extremely hard, describes his journey to becoming a professional dancer as a “smooth,” with support from friends, family teachers and administration. “I couldn’t afford to fly to New York for the [Alvin Ailey Dance Company] audition, so one of my dance teachers from the High School for the Arts flew with me to Berkley, and came with me while I auditioned for the company.”
That trip to Berkley California early in the year 1992, garnered Rushing not only a scholarship training with Alvin Ailey, but a place on the training company that came with a job after he finished high school within the segment of the Alvin Ailey Company called ‘Second Company,’ now called ‘Ailey II.’
Normally a dancer trains in Ailey II for two years, but Rushing’s extreme talents and hardworking mentality allowed him to be accepted into the Ailey Company after one year, something that Rushing called, “totally unexpected.”
“I’ve had so many fulfilling moments with Ailey, it’s hard to say,” recalls Rushing, “My first time going to South Africa, was one of my proudest moments as an artist, as a dancer, as a person. We went to South Africa to perform in Johannesburg, but part of our purpose for going there was to make sure we had a huge hand in the out-reach. We went to the local townships and gave master classes and lecture demonstrations.” Rushing goes on to describe the participants, who walked for hours along dirt roads with no shoes, just to participate in the classes and how they quickly picked up the moves and the choreography of Ailey’s ‘Revelations’ that was taught as part of the classes, despite most of them not having experiences in traditional classrooms. “They performed as though they had choreographed the work. It was mind blowing. I realized that because of what they were going through. Their spirits were much more mature than mines, and to see them find so much joy in something so simple, really blew me away.”
A typical training day for Rushing starts at 8:30 am, at the gym with cross training, weight lifting, biometrics, swimming and stretching. He also does lots of cardio to aid him in getting through those longer performances. After the gym, Rushing takes Company Class, a ballet or modern class that starts around 10:30 am. Then, he goes into rehearsal at 12:00 pm until 7:00 pm.
Rushing plans to continue indefinitely with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and continue with his promotion as ‘Rehearsal Director’ for the Ailey Company. “I’m still trying to find myself in it, and [figuring out] how to become completely devoted to the dancers and still be completely devoted as a performe. Ailey is my home. I enjoy teaching, choreographing, and helping other artist, younger dancers, and even more mature dancers become better artists have become a new passion of mines.”
Rushing has had a incredible career with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. His many accomplishments include a Spotlight Award, Dance Magazine Award and he was named a Presidential Scholar in the Arts. He became Rehearsal Director for the Ailey Company in June 2010. He has choreographed many Ailey performances and plans on creating more.
For more information on Alvin Ailey Dance Company go to www.alvinailey.org. The Inglewood Playhouse is located on Warren Lane and Centinela, in the center of Edward Vincent Park and can be reached by calling (310) 412-5451.