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HARLEM AIR SHAFT feat. Kwami Coleman & James Brandon Lewis
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. The 40-minute-long piece can be viewed at no charge on Thursday, June 24, starting at 5 p.m., and will be presented on the city blocks 126th and 125th Streets between 5th and Madison Avenue.
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 126th Street—famously known from Art Kane’s iconic photo, “A Great Day in Harlem”—in a ritual procession woven into the flow of everyday traffic. Three dancers (Bianca Cosentino, Emily Tellier, and Omari Wiles, choreographed by Stefanie Nelson) perform with portable dance floors rhythmically driving the work in Morse code, and a cast of other participants address the audience from moving cars through speaker systems. Musicologist Kwami Coleman speaks to the comings and goings of jazz in Harlem; jazz union representative Todd Bryant Weeks talks about 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; and saxophonist James Brandon Lewis plays a solo meditation on Duke’s composition.