Inspired by the tradition of DIY Harlem rent parties of the 1930s and 40s, HARLEM AIR SHAFT draws its title from a Duke Ellington composition, a sonic narration of an architectural space meant to bypass building codes that were designed to ensure adequate living conditions. The piece, focuses on the economics of jazz, and the capacity of historic sites to hold memory, enveloping a city block around 17 East 126st Street – famously known from Art Kane’s iconic jazz greats photo, A Great Day in Harlem – in a ritual procession weaved into the flow of everyday traffic. Featuring three dancers (Bianca Cosentino, Emily Tellier, and Omari Wiles, choreographed by Stefanie Nelson) with portable dance floors rhythmically driving the work in Morse code and a cast of other participants addressing the audience from moving cars through the speaker systems. Musicologist Kwami Coleman speaks to the comings and goings of jazz in Harlem; jazz union representative Todd Bryant Weeks talks about the economic hardship in the field through the language of the soapbox, poet Thomas Sayers Ellis delivers a meditation on the language and fleetingness of memory, while saxophonist James Brandon Lewis plays a solo meditation on Duke’s composition.
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HARLEM AIR SHAFT | Open: 06/24/21 Close: 06/24/21
HARLEM AIR SHAFT is a multidisciplinary performance ritual examining the relationship between jazz and memory in the context of a Harlem streetscape, conceived by the award-winning multimedia artist Justin Randolph Thompson in collaboration with choreographer Stefanie Nelson and visual artist Bradly Dever Treadaway. The piece invites viewers to immerse themselves in an improvisation-driven performance featuring dancers, a musician, a jazz union representative, and a poet in perpetual motion. HARLEM AIR SHAFT disrupts everyday reality to remind viewers of the rich cultural heritage of the place, the economics of memory and the complex history of community, resilience, art, and healing.