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Dance Theatre of Harlem performs 'Sounds of Hazel' in Seattle

A male and female ballet dancers face each other wearing orange costumes on a darker orange set.
Jeff Cravotta
Seattle Theatre Group
Dance Theatre of Harlem's Anthony Santos and Amanda Smith in "Sounds of Hazel."

A groundbreaking pianist, vocalist and actress, Hazel Scott entranced audiences in the 1930s through the 1950s with her mix of jazz and classical music. The Dance Theatre of Harlem pays tribute to Scott on Nov. 5 in Seattle with "Sounds of Hazel."

Virginia Johnson, the artistic director for the professional ballet company and school based in New York City's Harlem neighborhood, told KNKX that production of the ballet began with the centennial of Scott's birth in 2020.

Hazel Scott 1956
James Kriegsmann
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Hazel Scott in 1956

Johnson said Scott's son, Adam Clayton Powell III, was on the board of Washington Performing Arts in the District of Columbia and looking for ways to commemorate the centennial. A longtime presenter of Dance Theatre of Harlem, the organization gave Johnson a call.

“I started reading about this amazing woman and about her amazing life,” Johnson said.

“It breaks my heart because nobody knows who she is. And she's a towering figure. She had a huge career and she was an amazing, generous, gifted person. So we're on a mission now, to get more people know about Hazel Scott.”

It's Johnson's hope that beyond the performance, people become curious and interested in finding out more about Scott. The centennial also prompted Powell to donateThe Hazel Scott Collection to the Library of Congress. Her works are being released on recordings again.

Johnson wanted to create a classical ballet to depict Scott’s life. She said there's long been prejudice against Black dancers in the field of classical dance, assuming they should instead perform modern and jazz. Johnson said that attitude is changing but very, very slowly.

“Black people don't have enough opportunity to create works in the classical idiom,” she said.

Dancing Through Harlem

Choreographer Tiffany Rea-Fisher and composer Erica Lewis-Blunt sourced Scott's own music and words to create a score for the aptly named "Sounds of Hazel."

"I'm thrilled to be able to come back to the Paramount Theater and bring Hazel Scott,” said Johnson.

She said Dance Theatre of Harlem will also perform "Passage" — another work by a female choreographer of color, Claudia Schreier.

"It is a work that was created for the 1619 commemoration, and the music is by the award-winning violinist/composer Jessie Montgomery," said Johnson.

"And most fun of the evening, we also have a work by our resident choreographer, Robert Garland, called 'Higher Ground,' set to the music of Stevie Wonder.“

Seattle Theatre Group presents Dance Theatre of Harlem at The Paramount in Seattle on Saturday, Nov. 5 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

On Thursday, Nov. 3, company members from Dance Theatre of Harlem will teach a movement workshopat Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center for dancers with at least 4 years of formal ballet training.

Corrected: November 4, 2022 at 9:45 AM PDT
Corrected spelling of Tiffany Rea-Fisher's name.
Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.