In the ephemeral world of American modern dance, only a handful of works can accurately be called "classics."
One of them, undeniably, is Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder, a 1959 piece by Donald McKayle that explores life among prisoners on Depression-era chain gangs in the South. McKayle first performed the piece nearly a half-century ago, and it has been performed all over the world ever since. It's most commonly associated with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which has had the work in its repertoire for decades.
A new staging of Rainbowpromises to be among the highlights of this year's Fall Dance Concert at the University of South Florida. McKayle himself will be on hand for a panel discussion with USF dance faculty members on Nov. 8, the final evening of the program.
"He's not one of the founding fathers or mothers of modern dance, but he's the next thing to that," said John Parks, the USF dance professor who is staging this new version of McKayle's signature work. "He worked with all those people, Martha Graham and Anna Sokolow and the others, and he followed in their tradition."
Parks first performed Rainbowin the 1960s, under the direction of McKayle, and later as a member of Ailey's company.
It's stylistically different from most current modern dance, which tends to borrow a sense of grace and lightness from ballet. But it's physically and emotionally grueling for the dancers, Parks said.
"It's not a pretty dance," Parks said. "It's hard work. It's not technical, but you have to have that spirit. You have to be sincere or it won't come through the footlights."
Other works in the concert, all new pieces choreographed by USF faculty members, are Gretchen Ward Warren's Cirque de Ballet,Lynne Wimmer's Physical Therapyand Michael Foley's Goneand Incandescent.
Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO
USF Fall Dance Concert
Shows are at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 6, 7 and 8, and at 3 p.m. Sunday in Theatre I, 4202 E Fowler Ave. on the USF Tampa campus. Admission is $12 in advance, $15 day of show; $8 in advance and $10 day of for students and seniors. The free panel discussion featuring Donald McKayle is at 6 p.m. Nov. 8 in Theatre I. (813) 974-2323; www.arts.usf.edu.