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February 2016 - Extras: RAISIN' JASMINE: An Interview with Jasmine Guy

The Harlem Renaissance is back on the stage of Popejoy Hall. Raisin’ Cane: A Harlem Renaissance Odyssey, inspired by the 1923 novel, Cane, gives a glimpse into the thoughts and words that became the voice of a new generation. Between 1918 and the mid-1930s, the African American movement experienced a time of artistic expression in literature, music, and dance. Leading the charge of this powerful story (along with The Avery Sharpe Trio, who will be bringing the show to life) is an artist who is familiar to many. As a singer, dancer, actor, and director, Jasmine Guy is a quadruple threat and is still not afraid to dream and reach for her goals. She’s been this way since she was a child. Guy talks about her time with Alvin Ailey, her dream of being on Dancing with the Stars, and the challenges of working in the industry.

Where did your inspiration come from to become a performer in all forms?

I was exposed to the arts at an early age, and the one that really grabbed me was dance, although I was drawn to performance in general. I attended Atlanta’s Performing Arts High School, and there I loved it all — singing, dancing, acting. But dancing was the thing I loved the most at the time, and I was good, so I never ever considered doing anything with my life that wasn’t entertainment.

You performed with The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. What was the experience like?

It was exciting, thrilling actually. Having danced with the Atlanta Ballet was great, but what Ailey represents is something completely unique in dance, and I wanted to be a part of that. I loved it, though it was the hardest work I’ve ever done, physically.

You have covered the spectrum when it comes to your body of work - television, movies and Broadway. What would you say is your most rewarding and enjoyable of the three?

It’s impossible to single out one. When I was dancing with Ailey, that was my whole world and I adored it. However, when I realized it might not pay the bills for the long haul, I branched out, doing work on Broadway, in The Wiz and in London, in Bubbling Brown Sugar. TV and film came from that natural progression. Now I’m still doing TV, and stage work like Chicago and Raisin’ Cane, so it comes full circle. I love working as a performer, and as a director.

You are currently performing in Raisin’ Cane: A Harlem Renaissance Odyssey. What can the audience expect with this show?

We call Raisin’ Cane a Harlem Renaissance “odyssey,” a trip through the 10-15 years following the Great War in which artistic expression in America’s Black community was exploding. Music, dance, poetry, literature — Black artists were finding their voices and were prolific in expressing their thoughts, feelings, and aspirations through their art. This show immerses the audience in that period through moving imagery, music, text, and song to celebrate these artists and their art. I get to interpret the words and works of some amazing writers; I sing; I dance. Come to the show with your ears and eyes wide open, and I think you will leave with a sense of awe for what took place back then, and what is all of our American history.

Why did you feel it was important to take part in this project?

I chose this project for many reasons. I grew up with an awareness of the period and writers and artists like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. Du Bois, and many of the others whose fresh ideas and bold artistic expression were giving rise to a new African-American generation. I love how these artists were taking risks with their art, stepping out of the shadows, and saying, “We are here.” Plus, I get to reunite with Avery Sharpe, who wrote the original score for Raisin’ Cane, and who I first met when I was performing in the European tour of Bubbling Brown Sugar in 1983, so we have great history together. I love interpreting and performing this powerful material, keeping the work of these artists alive for people to experience, with all original music by Avery.

I read on your website that you have a goal to be on “Dancing with the Stars.” As a talented dancer, what is it about the show that you feel will be a challenge for you?

It’s been a long time since I danced professionally, and I never did ballroom as part of my repertoire, so the whole idea is a challenge to me, and one I would love to take on. Getting to perform those fabulous dances on live TV, with no retakes, would be very exciting.

You have been in the business for over 35 years - covering all gambits - what would you like your legacy to be?

I really don’t think it those terms. I am really about my “legacy” following the next performance I do. With Raisin’ Cane, I want people to feel I entertained them, and to be stimulated by the tremendous outpouring of art, literature, music, and more that came to us during this period in Harlem. Most of all, I hope they are ignited by our American story, and that they realize it is all of our story.


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