Black History Inspires Message Behind “Rhythm Stories"

2013 Tania Fuentez Media

Students performing in Purelements’ Rhythm Stories say experience with the urban dance company prepares them for the real world as young artists, helping them tap into their talent and inner strength while balancing homework, social life and other after-school activities. Hard work pays off as the cast illuminates on stage while sharing a strong bond and dedication to the creative process.

“It feels like a family to me,” 15-year-old vocalist and dancer Jordan Juliano said after the Feb. 13 show at Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts in Brooklyn. For two years, he’s been proud to be a part of Purelements, gaining valuable lessons and friendships along the way. In addition to perfecting vocal range and contemporary moves, Jordan wrote a rap for this year’s grand finale. Nini Juliano couldn’t help tearing up a bit as she watched her son take a bow. “I cry every time, even at his rehearsal,” she smiled.

The inspiration behind Rhythm Stories stems from “the need to talk about other aspects of our history outside of just being slaves,” explains Lakai Worrell, who co-founded Purelements in 2006 with childhood friend, Kevin Joseph. The pair first met at a B-boy/breakdance competition in 1981 and now share co-executive artistic director duties, offering multidisciplinary education programs in contemporary dance and the performance arts.

“Whenever we get to Black History month we will inevitably come across the topic of slavery,” says Worrell, who wrote and directed the play that takes a compelling look at cultural heritage through the eyes of teens attending a performing arts school. Transcending time and place, cast members embark on a journey celebrating the human experience through song, dance and spoken word. “Unfortunately, I was beginning to feel as if that was the only time period given focus and appreciation as to our time here in the Americas. Our past is rich with people who broke down barriers with their creative efforts. Their efforts helped to energize movements, educate the masses, bring relief to terrible situations and to expand the world’s view of who we are and what else we have to offer.”

Audiences applauded the display of emotion and vibrancy during Purelements’ February production this year. Following shows at Kumble Theater, two encore performances were part of Sunday services at St. Paul’s Community Baptist Church in Brooklyn. The young performers address serious topics as they span generations and musical genres, reviving scenes from an African village and the Jim Crow era to the uplifting energy of the “world finest” Savoy Ballroom in Harlem and a spirited gospel choir interacting with the audience.

“Rhythm Stories is a great piece about our people using their creativity and their passion and their art to tell stories and to help other people bring their creativity out,” says Lamar Cheston, who portrays “Yowsah,” a mystical narrator in the production. “A lot of people don’t know the history, they don’t know the struggles of our ancestors.”

When asked if Worrell ever imagined the influence urban dance culture would have globally, he observes, “Urban music usually is the very pulse that feeds the global community. It speaks to the constant need for the change that generally begins to happen per each generation.”

Continuing, “our desire (Kevin and I) was to give others like us the same opportunities to succeed in ways they may have only previously imagined,” Worrell said. “Purelements is working to provide an establishment in East Brooklyn where professional and community meet in such a well-balanced space that all recognize their value and steadily work together to keep advancing together. We focus on all talents with a strong emphasis on the development of the creative self.”