Dance Master Elbert Watson has choreographed three new dances for a Feb. 23 performance at the Attucks Theatre, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the storied performance venue.
The program, One More River to Cross, explores and celebrates two iconic figures: Crispus Attucks, hero of the Boston Massacre and the American Revolution; and the trailblazer and songwriter, Sam Cooke, who forever changed the trajectory of music.
The Crispus Attucks dance will include two members of the Norfolk Academy faculty: Art teacher Greg Barton, who performed as part of the Elbert Watson Dance Company on Veterans Day, in a dance dedicated to the Navajo code talkers; and Middle School English teacher Ryan Tucker, who has made his mark as a professional lacrosse player and coach, will make his debut as a dancer. The two teachers are joining performers in The Elbert Watson Dance Company.
Mr. Watson, who has taught dance to students at Norfolk Academy for more than two decades, was a principal dancer with the renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He is a member of the committee organizing Attucks at 100, a full year of events celebrating the Attucks Theatre.
Designed by African-American architect Harvey Johnson, the theatre opened in 1919, and it showcased a host of legendary black performers such as Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Mamie Smith, Nat King Cole, and Redd Foxx. In the segregated South, it was a cultural and social hub for African Americans, and it attracted top performers to Norfolk. However, by 1953, the theatre fell on hard times, and after a period of use as a retail store, the iconic building fell into disrepair. Congress deemed it a National Historic Landmark in 1977, but it was not until 2004 that funds could be raised for its full restoration and reopening as a theatre.
Crispus Attucks, for whom the theatre is named, is regarded as the first man killed in 1770 Boston Massacre, and thus the first patriot killed in the American Revolution. While much about Attucks’ life remains a mystery, some basic facts are known: he was born in Framingham, Massachusetts and was of African and Native American descent; he worked on the docks and on whaling ships. However, Mr. Watson said that history books downplayed the significance of Attucks, due to his racial heritage; with the dance, which he created after extensive research about Attucks himself and about the Boston Massacre, he seeks to shine a spotlight on Attucks’ heroic actions.
The performance at 4 p.m. on Saturday, February 23, is free and open to the public.