Header Photo of Jasmine Jawato, Leanne Poirier, and Kevin Williamson & was taken by Rose Eichenbaum.
Choreographer and director David Roussève will present the Louisiana premiere for his latest work Halfway to Dawn which interprets the work of Billy “Sweet Pea” Strayhorn, a jazz composer who served as a main arranger and writing partner to Duke Ellington. From the 1940s to the 1950s, Strayhorn, an openly gay musician in Harlem, N.Y., was involved in the civil rights movement and was a friend to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He remained out of the spotlight during this era, but his work lives on under the credit of the more famous Ellington.
From April 5-7 at the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans, Roussève’s nine-member dance troupe REALITY will perform Halfway to Dawn, which will mix jazz, modern/post-modern, and social dance styles. Roussève, who shares a strong connection to New Orleans, sees the work as an ideal fit to be performed in the city.
“New Orleans is the birthplace of my father and half my family lived there for my whole life,” Roussève said, referring to his parental relatives. “So I spent a lot of time in New Orleans with my grandparents Charles and Mildred Roussève. I have fond memories of New Orleans from a young child to an adult and spending time with family,” he added.
The Roussève family has supported education in the African American community in the city. Roussève’s grandfather Charles Roussève and his brother Ferdinand Roussève are considered the first African American architects’ in Louisiana. The family started the Roussève Scholarship fund at Xavier University of Louisiana that directly pays for students’ tuition to attend the historically black university. The university will host a reception to honor the Roussève family’s commitment to education following the opening night performance on April 5. In 2018-2019, the family scholarship supported 34 students.
David Roussève is a graduate of Princeton University and a Guggenheim Fellow who has created 14 works, of which three were commissioned for the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The REALITY dance company performs work that capture and portray both traditional and contemporary African American experiences through dance and theatre performances.
Roussève said his work touches on a wide range of experiences within the Black community on topics like AIDS, racism, sexism, homophobia and recent social issues.
“As an unsung hero who partly wrote one of the greatest bodies of work in American music history, but who chose a life of personal truth over fame, Strayhorn has much to teach us especially in our current fame and public media obsessed world,” Roussève said of the inspiration behind his latest work.
The title of the work also has a deeper meaning as halfway between midnight and dawn is Strayhorn’s favorite time to compose. He felt that the creative juices flowed best then and that everyone is at their most open and vulnerable at that time of the day.
“Billy and his music deserve to be celebrated,” said Leanne Iacovetta Poirier, a dancer with REALITY. “So the fact that we get to perform to his work for various communities around the world – especially in places like New Orleans, where jazz music is an integral part of the city’s culture and history – is such an enriching experience,” Poirier said.
Halfway to Dawn has a limited engagement over three consecutive dates from Friday-Saturday, April 5-6, at 7:30 p.m. and a 2:00 p.m. matinee Sunday, April 7. Halfway to Dawn’s General admission tickets are $30; and $25 for CAC members. Tickets are on sale at http://cacno.org/halfwaytodawn. For more information on the work, patrons can visit https://www.davidrousseve.com/halfwaytodawn.