May 02, 2013

By Troy Tieuel

Contributing Writer

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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.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

May 02, 2013

By Chelsea Battle

LAWT Contributing Writer

 

Those who know and love Kellita  Smith as “Wanda Mac”, the hot wife who performed alongside the late Bernie Mac on Fox’s The Bernie Mac Show, will be happy to learn that the star is maintaining her staying power—both on and behind the screen. For starters she is producing quality media, with a new movie and radio show in the works. On screen she can be seen starring as the First Lady in BET’s newly acquired television series, The First Family. On the grassroots level, her advocacy against domestic violence is also noteworthy. 

“I came from a single parent home and I definitely was exposed to violence,” Smith reveals solemnly. “I just recently did a PSA [Public Service Announcement] for One Billion Women Rising. As women we are beautiful in so many different ways. Part of what I was able to do with this campaign was to really reveal a little bit about myself, because sometimes a lot of the roles I play allow me to be sophisticated or allow me to seem polished and refined. I’m playing roles where the marriages work. The truth of the matter is that I really come from the opposite.”

Smith’s work with One Billion Women Rising, a women’s advocacy organization that focuses on domestic violence and rape, is of considerable importance to her for more reasons than one. The California native, who was raised in Oakland’s inner city, openly reveals that she fell victim to domestic violence and molestation well beyond her adolescence, up until she was 24 years old.

“I grew up without a father around pimps and hoes, dope dealers and athletes, so my self-image was being destroyed,” reveals Smith.  “And if you never address the shame that is created from molestation, then as a woman it’s hard for you to realize your true value.”

Smith credits acting with saving her life.  Given that actors are constantly required to delve deep into the emotional realm, running away from ones own emotions is virtually impossible. Thus Smith believes that her personal tragedies are essentially her gifts that help to create more depth within her craft.

Most recently her gift for acting has been put to use in the family-friendly television series, The First Family. Co-starring alongside Christopher Duncan [The Jamie Foxx Show], who plays President Johnson, Smith plays First Lady Katherine Johnson.  Given the green light to develop 104 episodes, the show follows an African American first family through their day-to-day routines as they navigate life in the White House. Other cast members include Jackee Harry, Gladys Knight, and Marla Gibbs.

“It’s a comedy but we also have to honor the fact that we do have a Black family in the White House, so it’s not corny. It’s representing them, but at the same time it’s giving you a little bit of art and also giving you jokes,” Smith shares.

The humble yet ever provocative Smith also has a slew of behind the scenes projects in the works. Her reserved, albeit outspoken, charm has enabled her to create her own radio talk show called “Let’s Get Naked.” Soon to be online, the streamed show will feature Smith and three others as they discuss sex, love, relationships, and everything in between. She is also producing what promises to be an exciting film, a work based on the story of a childhood friend she grew up with who was the youngest drug kingpin in Oakland.

“I think that where you’re from is very essential to who you have an opportunity to become,” Smith reflects. “Growing up in the inner city there were a lot of choices that did take me down a lot of different roads, which is actually a good thing because you’re able to see that you can make better choices.”

Smith’s current offerings stand as evidence that she is indeed making good choices. In parting she leaves us with a quote from the 19th century theater director Constantin Stanislavski: “Love the art in yourself and not yourself in the art,” which she interprets as, “Don’t get caught up in rewards that art can give  you; love the fact that you are a creator and that you are brilliant.”

 

 

 

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

April 25, 2013

ARIES

 

If you feel blessed this week, don’t be surprised. With last week’s soul vibration you were able to see a wonderful truth about yourself. Did you look? If you did then this week that truth will shine in everything you do. Soul Affirmation: The earthiness of my being reflects the sunshine of my soul.

 

TAURUS

 

You may feel a bit frustrated that some of the miscellaneous items from your “to do” list reappear for this week. Chill. Find ways to exert excess stress positively. Everything you need to get done will be done. You’ve got what it takes! Continue to shine! Soul Affirmation: Another day in which to rejoice is upon me. ah-h-h-h-h!

 

GEMINI

 

The sincere emotions that should have flowed through you last week will begin to glow more brightly this week. No matter what the emotions were, you can find the good in them this week. If you have to search deeply, do so. The good is there in abundance this week. Soul Affirmation: My emotions provide me a pathway into the sunshine of my being.

 

CANCER

 

Energy is higher than it was last week. You might feel like the sunshine inside yourself provides blinding light. Walk into it. There are no dangers. Put dark glasses on your soul vibrations and be cool. This day is too light, too bright. Soul Affirmation: I love myself when I am laughing!

 

LEO

 

You might get negative answers to an important question this week so you should have a backup plan. And you should know that in the long run it is better that the answer was not yes. Be daring! Make efforts to move beyond your comfort zone. You’ll be glad you did. Soul Affirmation: I will ask joy to marry me.

 

VIRGO

 

Don’t waste your shine on solitude. Get out and let other people see it this week. The cheerfulness that should have come into your life last week is looking for places to express. Find them. Your winning ways can win big this week. Soul Affirmation: People love me, yes they do.

 

LIBRA

 

You like to shine. Everyone might not know it but you like to be a little superficial and playful. That side of your soul vibration is pleading for expression this week. Listen to the plea. Give it a chance but be careful of the sensitive feelings of those who experience you in another way.  Soul Affirmation: Light from my soul shines in many directions.

 

SCORPIO

 

Some say optimism is fantasy. Suppose the good thing you’re optimistic about never comes. This week you’ll know that the joy of anticipating it is joy enough. Just the certainty of coming goodness is present goodness. The joy of tomorrow is available this week. Soul Affirmation: The certainty of coming goodness is goodness.

 

SAGITTARIUS

 

The joy that you get from good results can make you a hero this week. Others will easily see how valuable your soul vibration is to them. It will be easy for them to see why they are glad they know you. Feel pride in your ability to move towards distant goals. Soul Affirmation: The sunlight of my spirit shines in the land beyond the horizon.

 

CAPRICORN

 

Did you enjoy what flowed in last week? Tell someone about it. Sure you like to gossip. So what. Enjoy going over in conversation what you enjoyed in consciousness last week. Did you make the consciousness into reality? You could have. You still can. Soul Affirmation: Things are as I know them to be.

 

AQUARIUS

 

Well enough of being satisfied and being still and letting the wealth inside yourself be your joy. Spend some of that wealth. Get into your real bank account. Use some hard cash and buy something to make you look as good as you feel. Soul Affirmation: Jewelry reflects the beauty of my feelings about myself.

 

PISCES

 

You find that waiting pays off, doesn’t it. Now is a better time to charge ahead. Good communication is favored. You’ll be more convincing. Others are more eager to work with you. Love is easier. Business is easier. People give approval in ways that they would not have last week. Soul Affirmation: A day of rejoicing is upon me. I celebrate.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

April 25, 2013

(AP) — Richie Havens, the folk singer and guitarist who was the first performer at Woodstock, died Monday at age 72.

Havens died of a heart attack in New Jersey, his family said in a statement. He was born in Brooklyn.

Havens was known for his crafty guitar work and cover songs, including his well-received cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman.”

His performance at the three-day 1969 Woodstock Festival, where headliners included Jimi Hendrix, was a turning point in his career. He was the first act to hit the stage, performing for nearly three hours. His performance of “Freedom,” based from the spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” became an anthem.

Havens returned to the site during Woodstock’s 40th anniversary in 2009.

“Everything in my life, and so many others, is attached to that train,” he said in an interview that year with The Associated Press.

Woodstock remains one of the events that continues to define the 1960s in the popular imagination. Performers included The Who, Janis Joplin, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and dozens of others, and the trippy anarchy of Woodstock has become legendary. There was lots of nudity, casual sex, dirty dancing and open drug use. The stage announcer famously warned people to steer clear of the brown acid.

Havens had originally been scheduled to go on fifth but had been bumped up because of travel delays. Festival producer Michael Lang said in the book “The Road to Woodstock” that he chose Havens “because of his calm but powerful demeanor.”

His performance lasted hours because the next act hadn’t showed up.

“So I’d go back and sing three more,” Havens said in an interview with NPR. “This happened six times. So I sung every song I knew.”

Havens’ website said that he had kidney surgery in 2010 and that he never recovered enough to perform concerts like he used to. He performed at Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration in 1993.

Havens, who released his breakthrough, “Mixed Bag,” in 1967, released more than 25 albums. He sang with doo-wop groups on the street corner in his Brooklyn neighborhood at an early age. At 20, he moved to Man­hattan’s Greenwich Village, where he performed poetry, listened to folk music and learned how to play the guitar.

“I saw the Village as a place to escape to in order to express yourself,” he said in his biography.

Stephen Stills said he remembered hanging with Havens in Greenwich Village and experiencing the singer’s talent.

“Richie Havens was one of the nicest most generous and pure individuals I have ever met,” Stills said in a statement, adding that Havens was unique and could “never be replicated.”

“When I was a young sprite in Greenwich Village, we used to have breakfast together at the diner on 6th Avenue next to The Waverly Theatre. He was very wise in the ways of our calling. He always caught fire every time he played.”

Havens’ last album was 2008’s “Nobody Left to Crown.” He also started his own record label called Stormy Forest in 2000.

“I really sing songs that move me,” he said in an interview with The Denver Post. “I’m not in show business; I’m in the communications business. That’s what it’s about for me.”

Havens also became an actor in the 1970s and was featured in the original stage presentation of The Who’s “Tommy.” He appeared in the 1974 film “Catch My Soul” and co-starred with Richard Pryor in “Greased Lightning” in 1977.

Havens was the eldest of nine children. He is survived by his three daughters and many grandchildren.

A public memorial for Havens will be planned.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

April 25, 2013

By ELIZABETH MARCELLINO

City News Service

 

An attorney for Michael Jackson's personal physician appealed the doctor's involuntary manslaughter conviction on Monday, arguing prosecutors failed to prove the King of Pop was on a propofol drip the day he died and that the trial judge excluded critical testimony. Conrad Murray, who is barred from practicing medicine, was convicted in November 2011 for administering a fatal dose of the powerful anesthetic to Jackson in the bedroom of the singer's rented Holmby Hills estate on June 25, 2009. Jackson was staying in the Los Angeles area while rehearsing for a

planned London concert series, dubbed ``This Is It.”

A last-minute theory in the case offered by the prosecution's anesthesiology expert was ``absurd, improbable and unbelievable,'' and not supported by physical evidence, according to the 231-page appeal. The prosecution contended that Murray, now 60, put the pop star on a continuous drip of propofol, left his patient alone and unmonitored, and Jackson went into respiratory arrest. But defense attorney Valerie Wass maintains in the appeal that Murray had been weaning the 50-year-old Jackson off propofol for three days and only gave him a small injection -- 25 milligrams -- to help him sleep before putting him on a saline drip. When Murray left the room, Jackson, desperate for sleep, self-injected a second dose, leading to cardiac arrest, Wass argued.

The appeal cites technical details from toxicology reports to support the defense contention that a quick heart attack, rather than respiratory arrest, was the cause of the performer's death. The prosecution's theory could have ``been blown apart'' by a forensic analysis of a 100-milliliter bottle that would have to contain both propofol

and the painkiller lidocaine to uphold prosecutors' arguments, Wass contended. Defense attorneys asked for that analysis 11 days after the jury returned its verdict. But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor denied the motion, saying the bottle had ``been around since the inception of the case.''

But the coroner's report said the bottle was empty, Wass argued in her appeal. It wasn't until the prosecution presented a new theory during testimony by a final rebuttal witness that the composition of drugs in the bottle became relevant. The prosecution's ``11th-hour tactic left the defense in a position where it had no real opportunity to present any effective defense to this novel theory,'' according to the appeal.

``As a result, the jury was left with the impression the rebuttal theory was a viable one, when in fact, it was entirely unsubstantiated.''

Wass said prosecutors withdrew their request for more than $101 million in restitution after the defense filed another motion to have the bottle tested during the restitution phase of the case. Prosecutors told the jury that even if Jackson had injected himself, Murray was responsible for his death because the physician should have realized that Jackson might do so if left alone with access to the drug. But according to Wass' appeal, Jackson had shown he understood the need to be monitored while taking the powerful drug, so Murray couldn't have predicted the pop star would use a syringe on his own.

The appeal also argues that Murray's trial co-counsel, J. Michael Flanagan, failed to adequately cross-examine the expert rebuttal witness or call for timely testing of the bottle. Wass and Flanagan were Murray's co-counsel on the appeal -- and were also romantically involved, according to court documents filed in another case -- until Flanagan resigned and sought a restraining order against Wass. Wass is under court order to stay at least 200 yards away from her former colleague.

The appeal in the Murray case also raised concerns about evidence not admitted at trial, including testimony about Jackson's use of Demerol and the pop icon's financial condition.

``The jury, however, was not allowed to learn that when Jackson died, he owed (concert promoter) AEG close to $40 million, there were more than 30 lawsuits pending against him and he owed millions of dollars to the IRS,'' the appeal argued.

That information showed that the performer had ``the weight of the world on his shoulders'' and was desperate to get enough sleep to be able to perform and fulfill his upcoming concert commitment, according to the appeal. Wass cited an email from concert director Kenneth Ortega to AEG Live CEO Brandon Phillips to illustrate Jackson's desperate state of mind.

``It would shatter him, break his heart if we pulled the plug,'' Ortega wrote.

``He is terribly frightened it's all going to go away. He asked me repeatedly tonight if I was going to leave him. ... He was like a lost boy. There still may be a chance he can rise to the occasion if we get him the help he needs.''

Finally, the appeal contends that the jury should have been sequestered to ensure a fair trial and that the court imposed a harsher sentence in order to make an example of a defendant in a high-profile case. Murray, convicted Nov. 7, 2011, is serving a four-year sentence in Men's Central Jail, but is expected to be released Oct. 28, according to the Sheriff's Department's inmate information website.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture


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