DENVER (CBS4) – It is a 60-year-old ballet about America, by an American, that has never been seen in the United States.
Katherine Dunham’s “Southland” finally has its premiere this weekend thanks to the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theater.
“Southland” is a ballet of rare power that blends creative force with political statement. A white woman, attacked and beaten by her lover, accuses a field-hand of rape, and he is lynched for what had been an act of kindness.
Julie Belafonte was on stage in Santiago, Chile when the show got its one-night premiere in 1951.
“It was very difficult for me at the time to actually do this,” Belafonte said. “I almost didn’t do it, and I was the only Caucasian in an all African-American company.”
The performance angered the U.S State Department, saying it was a negative view of the United States. But honesty is often negative because it reflects the truth.
“It showed a negative existing component in our society here,” Belafonte said.
The show only got one more performance in Paris in 1953 before the State Department shut it down again. It has never been seen in the United States until now, thanks to Cleo Parker Robinson Dance.
“I would like to commend Cleo Parker Robinson for having the commitment to have her company show this piece as it’s never been done in the United States,” Belafonte said.
It’s a rich, creative vision that unleashes a powerful political statement.
“In rehearsal, on a bare stage, and I was thrown back in my seat by the beauty of the dance and the power of the imagery,” CBS4 Critic at Large Greg Moody said.
The reconstructed and unseen classic “Southland” will have its American premiere this Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the Gates Concert Hall of the Newman Center for the Performing Arts on the University of Denver campus.