A new ballet aims to show homelessness in a different light and raise awareness
By Adelle Brodbeck
Upper West Side When charity and the arts join forces something unique comes to life. The extraordinary talent behind The Edward Morgan Ballet and Goddard Riverside Community Center are uniting their expertise to present a progressive performance to address the homelessness epidemic in New York City.
Director Joseph Alexander, who has been with The Edward Morgan Ballet since 2002, found inspiration for the upcoming performance in one of his young dance students.
The ballet company has been working with underserved children through outreach programs for years, but it was one particular student who struck Alexander's attention.
"She approached [Alexander] explaining that she may be late for rehearsal because she was moving into a homeless shelter," explained Goddard Riverside's director of the community arts program Susan Macaluso. Despite her hardships, the student arrived to rehearsal on time and Alexander said that she gave a wonderful and enthusiastic performance.
That attitude Alexander saw in his student is one that he and Edward Morgan hope to portray and produce through their ballet. "We want people to go away with an uplifting feeling," said Morgan. "We want to celebrate looking at the homeless in a different light."
The performance is divided into three parts that interweave various artistic expressions such as professional ballet, spoken word, and singing. Each portion will help to shed light on the wide range of issues New York City is facing when it comes to homelessness.
"There is reality and then I guess I can say that there is fantasy," said Morgan. "There are scenes where the actors will come forward and tell stories about things that they have experienced, then there will be scenes where they will act stories out and one of the actors may be homeless."
Morgan explained that the ballet section was partially prompted by the Pagliacci clown. "He was a famous clown who hid his sadness and what the homeless tend to do is put on a happy face and act like everything is okay," said Morgan. "Some of the dancers will portray pedestrians and others will be the homeless and wear the clown faces." The different ways in which the pedestrians interact with the homeless will reflect how many people in reality behave.
Alexander added that not only is homelessness an issue addressed, but also what happens when certain people are placed in shelters. "We are doing a piece in the program to highlight the fact that the LGBT youth do get murdered in the shelters," Alexander said. "There are a lot of things that go on in life still today that are not fair. Many people don't realize that a lot of the homeless population is made up of children, so just by doing this performance we are waking up people's consciousness."
Macaluso and Morgan were acquaintances years ago and recently reconnected by coincidence. Over this past summer Morgan's company hosted a ballet and theater program in the Goddard Riverside center. Now the two companies are utilizing their connection to carry out their cohesive missions.
"One reason we are doing this with Goddard Riverside is because they do actually give permanent housing to the homeless," said Morgan. In the past six years Macaluso said that the center housed 1400 people.
Goddard Riverside is responsible for outreach for all of Manhattan, 24 hours a day. They host a multitude of programs that focus on aspects other than just housing, such as employment and integration. They also assist those with mental health issues and provide proper medications and therapy.
"We can't give millions of dollars to build shelters," said Alexander. "But if you raise the awareness you never know what people will do, hopefully it will start a tidal wave of help."
The performance itself is a "new type of theater" as Alexander put it. The intergenerational cast features ages from as young as 9 years old to upper 70s from all artistic backgrounds and helps to visually carry the message of acceptance and welcoming.
"It has been amazing to see these performers transform," Alexander said. "A lot of times when they're working as an actor or a singer they are doing things but they don't know why they are doing it. But when they are working on something like this, it elevates their minds. Some of them have grown as artists in just a few weeks."
At just 15 years old, Shamia Diaz is one of the many dancers to be gracing the stage this weekend. She has been with Morgan's ballet company for long enough to earn star status and her graceful presence will be an asset to the performance.
"It is not just to better ourselves in dance," said Diaz on working with Morgan's program. "It is to better ourselves for the future. Working on this performance has built up my confidence, and allowed me to express myself through dance."
Diaz said that she already had some experience with the homelessness issue before she began work on the ballet. "My mom actually helps this man out who is homeless," said Diaz. "And I see how he finds his way and is so hard the way he lives." could have actually known them."