Monday, January 27, 2020

Lula Washington Dance Theatre Turns 40!

By Darlene Donloe

It was 50 years ago on January 25 that Erwin and Lula Washington got married and never looked back.

It was 40 years ago this year that they launched the Lula Washington Dance Theatre and decided to only look forward.

The Lula Washington Dance Theatre, a repertoire dance ensemble, was founded in 1980 by Lula and Erwin Washington. The company, which tours internationally, is now known for its powerful, high-energy dancing and innovative and provocative choreography.

To commemorate the dance company’s 40th anniversary, a celebration is taking place at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts January 30 through February 1 only.

Mixing jazz, hip-hop, African movement, ballet, modern, tap and other dance styles, the show’s program will explore social and humanitarian issues through performances that include Christopher Huggins’ To Lula with Love/Warrior  (world premiere) Lula Washington’s King (excerpts from The Movement) Tommie Waheed Evans’ Hands Up: A Testimony (world premiere), Esie Mensah’s Zayo (West Coast premiere), Lula Washington’s excerpts from Fragments (work in progress) (world premiere), plus Reign, a favorite by world renown hip hop artist  Rennie Harris.

Huggins is a former member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and an alum of Lula Washington Dance Theatre. Evans, received a 2019 Princess Grace Foundation Honorarium Grant to create his work, which focuses on his experience growing up in Los Angeles and what it meant to him to be a product of that city.

Washington’s Fragments is a work-in-progress she describes as “a reaction to the chaotic times we live in,” and King, which she created in 2007, is about the struggles of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement.

An inspiration in the dance community, Washington, who grew up in Watts, has long cemented her status as a creative driving force.

Last year Washington and her husband, Erwin, whose daughter Tamica, is associate director of dance company, were recognized with the Dance/USA Champion Award for their impact on dance. 

The Champion Award is given to an organization, business, foundation, or individual in appreciation for their achievements, leadership, outstanding service, and dedicated efforts that have sustained and significantly advanced the dance field in the annual conference host city. 

Lula Washington

I recently caught up with Erwin (EW) and Lula Washington (LW) to talk about the dance theater and its upcoming 40th-anniversary celebration at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

DD: How long have the two of you been married?

EW:  This month on January 25 we will be married 50 years. The company’s anniversary is virtually the same day. It’s been 40 years for the company.

DD:  You’ve been running the dance company for a very long time.

EW: It’s a difficult field. It can put wear and tear on a relationship.

DD:  Where and how did you and Lula meet?

EW: We were high school sweethearts at Washington High School. We met in physiology class.  Then we went our separate ways when we went to college. We kind of broke up. Then she did a dance concert and invited me. We reconnected and lit the flame while watching dance.

Erwin Washington

DD: Tell me about the conversation you had with each other to launch Lula Washington Dance Theater.

EW: We were sitting in the living room. Lula was sitting on the floor. She loves to sit on the floor. She told me her vision, which was to create a place in the community where young dancers could get nurtured, learn the craft of dance and practice their art form.

I said to her, “Wouldn't you like to tour around the world and have a dance company like Alvin Ailey?

She said, “Yeah, that would be nice to.” We put both our visions together. Everything we wrote down 40 years ago we’ve done.

Having a place in the community was important to her. Having a place to do the art form was important.

DD: You are the logistics guy. You book all of the tours.

EW: Yes, I book the tours.  I got the company booked in Russia, China, Israel, and Brazil.  This week there is a show in New Jersey.  This year we’re also booked in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, San Luis Obispo, Houston, and Arizona.

DD:  When you talk about the dance company – your voice smiles.

EW: Yes, I love it. When we go out and do shows and the audience loves what we bring to them we know we’re doing something special.

LW: – My goal was to always give back.   I would like dance introduced to my community – so they can experience it at an early age.  The arts help people heal.

DD: 40th anniversary????  Can you believe that?

EW:  It went so quick. It’s never boring or repetitive or dull. The years careened by. You stay busy. Always ongoing activity. Always fundraising and marketing

DD:  When you first started, did you think you’d be around this long?

LW:  I didn’t think about the realities. The most important thing was to get it started. I never thought about longevity.

DD:  What was happening in the city in the 1980s?

LW:  The energy was different. There were few opportunities. We had very few opportunities to dance. Few dance companies. The most prominent company that was black was Inner City Rep out of the Inner City Cultural Center.   I wanted to be a part of it, but that never materialized for me. I auditioned. They only needed one female.  My dance teacher at UCLA got the job.

DD:  Why do you think you’ve lasted that long?

LW: Self-determination and persistence. When you believe in yourself and work hard and fill a void – that’s something other people recognize as well. I had something important to say.

DD:  Lets talk about what the audience is going to see.  

LW:  Christopher is an alumni member and Alvin Ailey American dance theater.  She gave him an opportunity to choreograph when he left Ailey. He’s an amazing choreographer. Tommie is also an alum of ours. Rennie is going to do a work we’ve done before. It’s high energy and a promising piece of choreography.

DD:  Tell me about Fragments and King.  What are you saying with your work?

LW: The King solo is something I’ve done before. It was well-received. It’s a moving and powerful work about Dr. King that is done to one of his speeches.
Fragments speaks to the era we’re living in.

DD: Have you thought about the impact you have made on dance in Los Angeles?

LW: I thought a little bit about it. A number of African American choreographers have come out of my dance company. I’ve given them jobs,  also some non-African American choreographers.  When I go to see a show, I realize 50-60 members of the cast came out of my organization. We are making an impact. Nationally we’re also making an impact. We are one of the founding members of the International Association of Blacks in Dance. People call us the Alvin Ailey of the west. We give scholarships. Many of our dancers have gone on to dance on Broadway, on cruise ships, Disneyland and more.

DD: Your family is involved. A lot of people don’t think family affairs work. How did the Washingtons make it work?

LW: It’s difficult. We fight all the time. It’s not a bad thing. It’s defending your concepts and ideas. It’s being able to get along at end of the day. It doesn’t always end up being your way. Listening is very important

DD: You have said that you want dance to reach for your soul.  Does it always have to do that – or can it just be fun to move?

LW:  Even if you want to have fun and move – you can still touch someone’s soul. It touches you. Your soul is your inner deepest feeling.

DD: You started dancing at 22, which some thought was too old. What do you tell your students who may be coming in a little long in the tooth?

LW: All things are possible. You still have to do the work. You can’t wait for someone to sit around and do something for you.
DD:  How has your approach to dance changed since the beginning?

LW: My approach hasn’t changed. I’ve always had spoken text and singing.  it hasn’t really changed. Still the same process. No reason to change it. Artists stay true to themselves.

DD: Advice for anyone getting in the business?

LW: If you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen. No one can stop you – but yourself. The only one who can stop you is you.

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Presents LULA WASHINGTON DANCE THEATRE 40th Anniversary Celebration; Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Bram Goldsmith Theater, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210; Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, 7:30 p.m. (artist talk-back immediately follows the performance); Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, 7:30 p.m. (champagne toast immediately follows the performance) and Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, 7:30 p.m.; $29 to $79 (prices subject to change); (310) 746-4000.

Running time is 100 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.


Friday, January 24, 2020

Sting's 'The Last Ship' Sets Sail At The Ahmanson

By Darlene Donloe

Sting’s The Last Ship finally made port when it anchored itself at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Jan. 22 for a four-week run.

There has been much anticipation behind the show with music and lyrics by Sting.

With Sting at the helm, what could go wrong?  Well, the story lacked umph.  When you don’t care about any of the characters in a cast of just under 20, something is wrong.

The Last Ship is a dark, moody musical about a struggling Northern England shipbuilding town that is about to lose its generational livelihood with the closing of its shipyard. 

The show, set in 1986, is a reboot of Sting’s 2014 Broadway show, which was a bust.

The men and women who have made a living at the shipyard are not about to go down without a fight. Their fathers worked there, their father’s father worked there and so on.  The thought of the shipyard closing causes anger and panic, which is too much for some of them to handle. Essentially overnight their livelihoods would vanish. 

Sting (c) and the cast of The Last Ship

It’s a story about unions and the working man standing his ground.  There are several B and C stories intertwined in the tome.  Jackie White, the foreman of the yard, played by Sting, is battling an illness.  A female shipbuilder is thrown a curveball when a boyfriend from 17 years ago – suddenly returns.

There’s a lot going on in the show buoyed by incredible musical and worthy performances, which is why it’s so puzzling why the show doesn’t glow.

First things first –it was difficult to decipher a lot of the dialogue that was spoken or sung due to the thick English dialogue.  Second, the show took too long to get started in terms of the meat of the story – and once it had, interest had waned.  The second act didn’t advance the narrative any more than the first act.

That being said, the singing/songs are spectacular. Such powerhouse voices. Standout songs include Dead Man’s Boots, And Yet, If You Ever See Me Talking To A Sailor, All This Time, What Say You, Meg and, of course, The Last Ship.


The show is visually stunning! The set design is beyond fantastic and scarily realistic. It’s a maze and amazing.  The stage is a series of catwalks stretching from one side of the stage to the other. The projection screens change scenes and enhance them with ease. With just the push of a button a screen comes down and it's the shipyard, push it again and it’s a pub, then a living room and more.   The sky actually moves changing from clear, to cloudy, to red, to stormy.

On opening night the theater was speckled with celebrities including Laurence Fishburne, Dustin Hoffman, Pierce Brosnan, Annie Lenox and, of course, Sting’s Police bandmates Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers.

The Last Ship, directed by Lorne Campbell, new book by Lorne Campbell, original book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, music, and lyrics by Sting.

The Last Ship, Center Theatre Group - Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles; 8 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 2 and 8 p.m. Sat., 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sun., no Monday performances. Exceptions: added 2 p.m. performance on Thursday, Feb. 13. No 6:30 p.m. performance on Sunday, Feb. 16, through Feb. 16, 2020, 213 972-7231, $35-$199,

Running time: 2h 45m

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), The Last Ship gets an L (likable).

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Cirque Du Soleil's VOLTA Is Pure Entertainment

By Darlene Donloe

And then there was VOLTA

Cirque Du Soleil never disappoints. There is always a mouth drop moment. There is always a “how did they do that moment and then another and then another.”

Cirque Du Soleil shows are always spectacular, mesmerizing, exciting, thrilling and pure entertainment. There is so much happening, that you don’t know where to look.

VOLTA, the latest Cirque Du Soleil show opened January 21 at Dodger Stadium. The 15th Big Top to visit Los Angeles, it is yet another stunning spectacle of bodies doing the seemingly impossible. It’s athleticism personified – always with a hint of danger.  The show is written and directed by Bastien Alexandre.  He writes about a young man named Waz, a contestant who doesn’t win the Mr. Wow Show.

To be honest, it was hard to follow. The storyline was missing in action, but it really didn’t matter because of the razzle-dazzle happening on stage. I actually lost the story of Waz and just focused on the performances. I do know that at the end of the show, Waz was apparently wherever he was supposed to be and had accomplished whatever he was supposed to accomplish.  

The first sports-inspired show, the creators of VOLTA drew inspiration from the spirit of adventure that pervades the world of BMX, street sports and acrobatics. There are bikes hopping from rooftop to rooftop, and double-dutch rope skipping.

The double-dutch was cool to watch but to be honest – three little black girls from the hood would have put that act to shame.

The acrobatic aerials were fantastic.  Hair Suspension featured a woman who was literally hanging by her hair. It was spectacular.  There was a segment on a giant revolving ladder that was a crowd-pleaser.

In Washing Machines funny moments happen at a laundromat where the clothes have taken over the asylum – jumping out of the washers at will.

The Trampowall where the performers bounce back and forth against a wall had to take an incredible amount of choreography. It's incredibly eye-pleasing. 

Shape Diving was also a fan-favorite. The artists were literally jumping through hoops to please the crowd. The shapes and heights of the hoops varied.  Sometimes the artists would fly through the hoop feet first – only occasionally knocking down the apparatus. I think those were planted into the show as a way for the audience to root for him to complete his task.  It worked. We hooped and hollered and applauded vigorously

There is a definite urban sport influence.

The show’s finale features a full-blown BMX park mounted on stage giving a truly in-your-face experience.

It was exciting and seemingly dangerous as the performers zoomed around the stage at top speeds stopping just before falling off the stage. The riders go up the jump boxes and perform air tricks before landing and leaping off the ramps again, crisscrossing and spinning their bikes in midair in a spirit of brotherhood.

The first show presented in Los Angeles was Cirque Reinvente in 1987.

Great costumes by Zaldy Goco. Also great lighting by Martin Labrecque. 

In the end, VOLTA is a hit!

VOLTA, Cirque Du Soleil’s first sports-inspired Big Top show plays under the Big Top at Dodger Stadium through March 8, 2020, followed by Orange County Fair & Event Center, Costa Mesa, March 18-April 19, 2020; Tickets start at $49 and are available for purchase by visiting or calling 1-877-9CIRQUE (1-877-924-7783).  BEWARE: Parking is a whopping $25.

On the DONLOE SCALE:  D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent) VOLTA gets an E (excellent).