Tag Archives: Kelly Thomas

Step Afrika! performs at the Maxwell Theatre Sep. 22

“Step Afrika!,” the first professional dance company dedicated to the tradition of stepping, returns to the Maxwell Theatre at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 22 for a night of percussive dance.

Since their last sold-out performance in 2007, they’ve been on Broadway and the show has been completely revamped.

According to Kelly Thomas, director of the Maxwell Theatre, the show is not only bigger and better. It’s more educational as well.

“You won’t just see a step show when you come to ‘Step Afrika!,’” he said. “You’ll learn about step as well.”

The brainchild of founder C. Brian Williams, a graduate of Howard University who learned to step as a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, “Step Afrika!” performs at more than 50 colleges and universities every year.

Arriving a day early, the company will participate in a series of workshops put on by Student Life and Engagement, helping students prepare for a student step show on Nov. 20.

Tickets are free for GRU students with a valid JagCard, $5 for staff, students and children, $10 for alumni and military and $15 for the general public. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or online here.

Lyceum Series begins Sept. 22

The 2015-16 GRU Lyceum Series brings artistry, creativity and a whole lot of history to the Maxwell Theatre, with four shows that are guaranteed to please.

First up, on Sept. 22, is Step Afrika!, a nationally known step company that traces the popular, percussive dance back to its traditions in African and modern dance.

“You won’t just see a step show when you come to see Step Afrika!, you’ll learn about step as well,” said Maxwell Theatre Director Kelly Thomas.

Coming exactly a month later is the world-famous Vienna Boys Choir.

“When you think children’s choir, this is the choir you think of,” Thomas said.

Featuring young singers from over 20 countries, the Vienna Boys Choir performs in front of more than a half million people every year. Not only that, but the choir is old. Really, really old.

“They don’t just sing Mozart’s music,” Thomas said. “They were around to work with Mozart.”

In conjunction with the GRU Opera and American Musical Theater Institute, the third Lyceum Series event this year will bring “The Marriage of Figaro,” a full opera featuring professional baritone Mark Diamond, to the stage on Feb. 12.

“Starting last year, we wanted to find a way to more directly connect the Lyceum Series with the students, and part of that was a decision to not just link up the professionals with the students outside of the performance, but to actually link up the professionals with the students on stage,” Thomas said. “And this year, instead of inserting the students into the professional’s performance, we’re inserting the professional into the students’ performance.”

The final event of the Lyceum season will occur on March 4, when the Peking Acrobats wow audience members with a daredevil program presented in coordination with the Confucius Institute.

“For people who have been coming to Lyceum Series for a long time, they’ve probably seen different acrobat shows,” Thomas said. “This is the biggest acrobat show we’ve ever done.”

Company members were featured in “Oceans 11,” and their Human Stair Stack set a world record.

The price structure for this year’s events remains unchanged from last year, though Step Afrika! and the Peking Acrobats will have options that will allow audience members on the thrust stage.

Tickets are free for GRU students, $5 for staff, students and children, $10 for alumni and military and $15 for the general public. They can be purchased at the box office or online here.

Native dance ensemble to perform at Maxwell Theatre

While it might be tempting to view the performances of the Kevin Locke Native Dance Ensemble, which will be performing at the Maxwell Theatre on Saturday, Jan. 24, as part of the 47th annual Lyceum Series, as cultural history brought to life on the stage, the troupe’s namesake would ask you to do otherwise.

“Ostensibly, people might view it as a cultural presentation, but if you take it out of the realm of looking at things through a cultural lens, then what it is is the presentation of traditional arts, or folk arts,” he said.

According to Locke, folk arts portray universal themes, like the longing for beauty, symmetry, harmony, rhythm, and balance – all things showcased by the ensemble.

“To me, what it’s really all about is affirming universal, unifying aspects of humankind,” he said. “It accentuates the nobility of the human spirit.”

Locke, recognized as one of the leading representatives of Native American Hoop Dancing as well as an expert in the indigenous Northern Plains flute, considers himself a bridge figure. Though his Lakota name, Tokaheya Inajin, means “the first to arise,” he makes it clear that he is part of an unbroken line of Native American artists.

“My mentor for the flute was born in the 1870s,” he said. “He passed away in the mid-1970s and was something like 100 years of age,” Locke said. “He was my mentor, so I got it from the source.”

Though Locke’s flute music may come from the source – he uses a traditional Native American flute rather than the more melodic version used on most recordings since the 1980s – not all the dancing goes back to early days, though it does remain authentic.

Wayne Silas, one of the ensemble members who was also voted Best Male Artist at the 2013 Native American Music Awards, dances a more contemporary style that developed out of the wild west shows, when audiences craved more spirited entertainment.

“When they were doing a lot of reenactments, the younger dancers and the people who directed the shows wanted something more energetic and more entertaining for the audience, so this style of dance was starting to kick up a lot higher with a lot faster style of song and more and more of an eye-catching style of dance.”

Like Locke, he considers his dancing less of an act of preservation and more of an evolving form of artistic expression that touches everyday life.

“Evolution is a perfect word for it,” he said. “It evolved into who we are today. We hold strongly to a lot of our teachings, a lot of the cultural and social aspects of our lives.”

Kelly Thomas, who is the Director of the Maxwell Theatre, said the ensemble is exactly the type of event he looks for when developing the Lyceum Series.

“We try to find something you’re not going to see in the community without us,” he said. “And by reaching to this event, in some ways we’re exposing our students and our community to things that are really closer to home. The native cultures are all around us, but we often don’t open our eyes to see what’s right here, and this is a way for us to do that.”

Though many shows at the Maxwell Theatre are general admission, Lyceum events like this one are reserved: $15 for the general public, $10 for GRU alumni and military, and $5 for GRU faculty and staff. GRU students are free with a valid JagCard.

“The sooner you get your ticket, the better your seat will be,” he said.

Tickets can be purchased at the box office or online.

Locke and Silas will also participate in a series of workshops that are free and open to the public.

At noon on Friday, Jan. 23, Lock will hold a Native American Flute workshop at the Fine Arts Center, C-1.

On Saturday, Jan. 24, at 10 a.m., Locke will be on the stage of the Maxwell Theatre for a Hoop Dancing workshop, and at 11 a.m., Silas will follow with a drumming workshop. Both are appropriate for all ages, including kids and families.

Maxwell Theatre has improved video system

Todd Sullivan, Technical Production Coordinator,  completes a test screening for a presentation.
Todd Sullivan, Technical Production Coordinator, completes a test screening for a presentation.

As part of a technology upgrade, the Maxwell Theatre on the Summerville Campus now has a screen that nearly covers the width of the stage.

“This screen is fantastic,” said Kelly Thomas, Maxwell Theatre Director. “It’s so much larger than the old screen we had, it’s not even comparable.”

The system gives the theatre new abilities to host movies and display presentations, according to Thomas. The screen is 32 feet wide by 20 feet high.

“With the old screen, you couldn’t really see the details of a PowerPoint presentation from the back of the theatre. It was just too small,” he said. “But with the new screen, everyone in the theatre can see it.”

The new system offers other technical upgrades, like video conferencing and a program that allows presentations on stage to be captured by an automated system. The system also can play DVDs and Blu-ray Discs at high resolution for events or class discussions.

“We installed a system so that you could control all the audio/video functions from anywhere in the theatre,” said Zach Gorman, Director of Instructional Systems and Services. “The new technology allows for any executive-level events to be held at the Maxwell Theatre.”

The screen has already been used for several events: the Freshman Convocation, the Professionalism Forum, and the Cinema Series.

“This brings the theatre up to date with similar venues around the nation,” Thomas said. “We’re really just scratching the surface of what we can do with this, and we hope to continue to experiment and explore its capabilities.”


Lyceum Series set to kick off

GRU Lyceum SeriesThe GRU Lyceum Series will kick off its 46th annual slate of shows on Sept. 20 with a one-man act that focuses on Latin American political viewpoints and is backed by a chamber music trio.

The CORE Ensemble in “Los Valientes” will play at the Maxwell Theatre on the Summerville Campus on Friday, Sept. 20, at 7:30 p.m. The event is free for students and $4 for staff and faculty. The community is also welcome to attend, and tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for children up to 17 years old.

“It’s a really unique show,” said Maxwell Theatre Director Kelly Thomas. “There are a lot of one-man shows out there, but few have actual live music that they interact with. And it really focuses on issues that many people may not be that familiar with.”

The show will feature actor Kevin Melendez exploring the artistic and political passions of Diego Rivera, the unwavering commitment to human rights of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, and the pursuit of social justice by Mexican American desperado Joaquin Murrieta, aka Zorro.

Thomas said that the university works to bring arts to the campus that may not get a lot of area exposure.

“We want to provide students and the community with a broad experience,” he said. “We want to show other types of art and how they impact other cultures. We want you to take away something that you didn’t already know.”

But they not only strive to bring a variety of arts to the university and community, but also strive to bring top-quality performances.

“We want to not only give access to different types of art, but to the best artists in the world,” Thomas said. “For example, last year we had the top Gilbert and Sullivan Company in the nation perform here.”

Thomas does advise to reserve your tickets in advance, as shows in past seasons have sold out.

For tickets or questions, contact the Maxwell Theatre Box Office, Monday through Friday, from 3 to 7 p.m., call 706-667-4100, or email maxwelltheatre@gru.edu.

Lyceum Series Schedule

The CORE Ensemble inLos Valientes”

Friday, Sept. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

A new chamber music theatre production for chamber music trio and solo actor exploring the artistic and political passions of Diego Rivera, the unwavering commitment to human rights of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, and the pursuit of social justice by Mexican American desperado Joaquin Murrieta, aka Zorro. Music for this show will feature songs and concert/vernacular music by Latin American composers.

The Cashore Marionettes:Life in Motion”

Tuesday, Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m.

This performance is a series of scenes taken from everyday life and set to beautiful music by Beethoven, Vivaldi, Strauss, Copland, and more. Through a combination of virtuoso manipulation, humor, pathos, classic music, and poetic insight, The Cashore Marionettes take the audience on a journey that celebrates the richness of life.

Urban Bush Women

Saturday, Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m.

Founded in 1984 by choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Urban Bush Women  seeks to bring the untold and under-told histories and stories of disenfranchised people to light through dance. The performance focuses on the woman’s perspective in order to create a more equitable balance of power in the dance world and beyond.

Johnny Clegg Band

Thursday, March 27 at 7:30 p.m.

Johnny Clegg has sold more than 5 million albums worldwide. One of South Africa’s most prolific musicians, Clegg is known throughout the world for his dynamic live shows. Johnny is a dancer, anthropologist, singer, songwriter, academic, activist, and a French knight. He is a rock star with three honorary doctorates. Clegg will also lecture on campus (more details to come).

All performances are at the Maxwell Theatre on the Summerville Campus.