Search for Hansen AND Steps of the Gods | Chicago Reader

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Madison Davis Lacy's 53-minute video Steps of the Gods (an episode from the forthcoming PBS series “Free to Dance”) chronicles the work of African-American choreographers Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus, Tally Beatty, Donald McKayle, and Alvin Ailey from the late 1930s until 1960, a period when segregation made touring difficult and the institutions of modern dance were controlled by whites. Its performance footage—Caribbean dance shot by Dunham in the late 30s, recordings of historic dancers, and contemporary revivals of their work—is often spectacular, the dancers stealing the show with their passion or meditative focus. Unfortunately the clips are too brief and too fragmented, a common problem in such documentaries. In Search for Hansen (1999, 43 min.) video maker Justin Bryant explores the work of Harlem photographer Austin Hansen, who documented life on the streets of Harlem from 1928 until 1996; the photographs are intriguing, but the talking heads' testimony regarding Hansen's life and work are often banal.

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