Performing Arts: Swingin’ Community Engagement

by Editorial

Famed choreographer Maurice Hines and the cast of  Swingin’ with Sophisticated Ladies, taught Washingtonians a thing or two about theater at the 18th annual Arena Stage Community Engagement benefit.

By John Arundel


Maurice Hines. (Photo by Tony Powell)

It’s not often that famed choreographer Maurice Hines freely distributes tips on how to dance and sing, but that he did by showing prominent Washingtonians why “they think they can sing and dance” with the cast of the smash-hit Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies at the 18th annual Arena Stage Community Engagement benefit held May 4 at Lincoln Theatre.


Guests arrived attired in Cotton Club couture to kick the evening off with cocktails and dinner, followed by an

Janine DiVita and Sean Turi. (Phot by Tony Powell)

Janine DiVita and Sean Turi. (Phot by Tony Powell)

original, one-night only performance of a select group of community leaders and politicians who shared their Ellington-inspired talents for attendees of the 18th annual gala.

Legendary actor James Earl Jones and Rep. Norman D. Dicks (D-WA.) were honored by Arena Stage with the American Artist and American Voice awards respectively for their contributions to the national arts community.

The American Artist Award honors an artist who has made a significant contribution to American theater and according to Artistic Director Molly Smith “represents all that is passionate, exuberant, deep and dangerous in the American spirit.” James Earl Jones jump-started his career in the 1967/68 Arena Stage premiere of The Great White Hope, in which he starred as boxing champion “Jack Jefferson” along with co-star Jane Alexander. This award has been given previously to Robert “Bob” Alexander, August Wilson and Arena Stage co-founder Zelda Fichandler.

Arena’s American Voice Award, established to honor individuals recognized as both advocates for the arts and leaders who articulate all that’s “passionate and profound” in the American spirit, was presented to Rep. Dicks. Past recipients include former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts Dana Gioia, Rep. Bob Matsui (D-CA), Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Del.  Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and representatives Tom Davis (R-VA) and Jim Moran (D-VA). Swingin’ Washingtonians who took to the stage at Lincoln Theatre included NBC 4 sportscaster Lindsay Czarniak, D.C.

Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-IL.), Del.

Jesse Jackson Jr.

Jesse Jackson Jr. (Photo by Tony Powell)

Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Miss D.C. 2009 Jennifer Corey, “K Street Kate” blogger and former Miss D.C. Kate Michael and DC Councilman Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).

Other guests at the gala included the author and biographer A’Lelia Bundles; Johnnetta B. Cole, Director of the National Museum of African Art; Carol Thompson Cole, the President and CEO of Venture Philanthropy Partners; Jennifer Cover Payne, President of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington and Artis Hampshire-Cowan, the Senior Vice President of Howard University.

Also in attendance, Dina Curtis, the Director of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project; Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD.), Angela Fox, the President and CEO of Crystal City B.I.D.; Linda Levy Grossman, Executive Director of the Helen Hayes Awards; Linda Donovan Harper, the Executive Director of Cultural Tourism D.C., Anne Ashmore Hudson, Chair of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities; Kay Kendall, Trustee of the F.P. Kendall Foundation, Paula Kerger, President and Chief Executive Officer, PBS; and Jaylee Mead, the Arena Stage benefactor and the retired NASA Mathematician and Astronomer.

The annual benefit raises one-third of the funds necessary to run Arena’s Community Engagement programs, which educate and enriches the lives of 20,000 students across the region. The evening’s lead sponsors included Clark Construction Group and Lockheed Martin.

COTTON CLUB CULTURE: Sharon Ambrose, Marilynn M. Bland, Carol Thompson Cole,  Jennifer Cover Payne, Artis Hampshire-Cowan, Dina Curtis, Donna Edwards,  Anne Ashmore Hudson, Amanda Hyndman, Kay Kendall, Kitty Kelley, Paula Kerger, Bobbie Greene Kilberg, Ann F. Lewis, Barbara Lang, Carol A. Melton, Doris Matsui, Dorothy McSweeny,  Gwen Moore, Mertine Elizabeth Moore Brown, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Beverly Perry, Heather Podesta, Lola Reinsch, Vivian Schiller, Ann Stock, Mary Terrell, Nina Totenberg, Barbara Wilson.

Arena Stage Performers. (Photos by Tony Powell)

Arena Stage Performers. (Photos by Tony Powell)

Laura Johnson, Genna Davidson, Catherine Blum. (Photo by Tony Powell)

Laura Johnson, Genna Davidson, Catherine Blum. (Photo by Tony Powell)

Former ballerina and Arena Stage choreographer Barbara Wilson. (Photos by Tony Powell)

Former ballerina and Arena Stage choreographer Barbara Wilson. (Photos by Tony Powell)

Rep. Norman D. Dicks and Susan Dicks

Rep. Norman D. Dicks and Susan Dicks. (Photo by Tony Powell)

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