CHUCK DAVIS, WHO BROUGHT AFRICAN DANCE TRADITIONS TO AMERICA
Chuck Davis, a dancer and choreographer widely regarded as America’s foremost master of African dance, died on Sunday at his home in Durham, N.C. He was 80.
His death was announced by the African American Dance Ensemble, which he founded in Durham in the early 1980s and directed until 2015. No cause was given.
Mr. Davis, who often said that he considered dance an agent of social change, performed, choreographed, taught and otherwise evangelized for the dances of Africa and the African diaspora for more than a half-century.
He was known both for his re-creations of traditional dances from throughout the African world and for his contemporary choreographed pieces that fused African traditions with modern dance.
DanceAfrica, a sprawling, multiday communal celebration, presents dancers and musicians from the United States, Africa and the diaspora, along with an outdoor bazaar selling African food and handicrafts. It has been reprised in cities throughout the United States.
“We need reminders of our history,” Mr. Davis, speaking of DanceAfrica, told The New York Times in 2001. “It adds meaning to our lives.”
Mr. Davis frequently traveled to Africa with his dancers to study dance and folkloric traditions, and lectured and gave master classes around the world. In North Carolina, he took his company to perform in schools, prisons and nursing homes, as well as on concert stages.
All this from a man who in his youth had planned to become a nurse — until he realized that his love of dancing might well pre-empt that career.
Growing up in the Jim Crow South, Chuck attended all-black schools. In high school, he entered a Navy R.O.T.C. program, training as a medical corpsman.
Smitten, he enrolled in dance classes at a local studio; he later studied a range of dance traditions at Howard University.
Before long, Mr. Davis had forsaken his plans for a nursing career.
“I decided that dance was the prevention, and nursing was the cure,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1995. “And I’d rather be part of the prevention than the cure.”
“We had seven minutes and you name it, we did it,” Mr. Davis recalled in the 2001 article in The Post. “We wore skimpy little costumes and we danced our little tuchises off.”
Moving to the city, Mr. Davis “got there on Tuesday, learned the five ballets on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and premiered on Saturday,” as he recalled in a 2012 interview with the Dance Heritage Coalition, a national dance-history organization.
Performing with Mr. Olatunji’s troupe at the 1964 New York World’s Fair in Queens, Mr. Davis was galvanized by a dance troupe from Sierra Leone, also on the bill.
“I’d never seen such fireworks on the stage,” he later said.
He began to dream of traveling to Africa, studying its dance traditions and bringing them back to American audiences.
“African traditions are based on respect,” he told The Herald-Sun of Durham in 2006. “It’s my way of fighting racism.”
Mr. Davis was moved to bring African dance traditions to an even wider audience, he said, after he happened to see an old Tarzan film on television.
A result was DanceAfrica, over which Mr. Davis, in flowing robes, presided each year like a traditional West African griot.
The festival’s emphasis on community meant that audience members could rarely expect to sit passively. Some might be called onstage to take part the dancing; all, by festival’s end, would have joined Mr. Davis in reciting “Peace, love and respect for everybody,” the phrase that had long been his mantra.
His many laurels include two Bessie Awards, formally known as the New York Dance and Performance Awards and named for the dancer and choreographer Bessie Schonberg.
Mr. Davis had no illusions that the dances he presented on this side of the Atlantic were exact copies of the African originals, which he made plain in interviews.
He had learned an enduring lesson about authenticity long before, at the World’s Fair. After a Nigerian troupe was unable to appear there, Mr. Olatunji’s ensemble was slipped in as a covert replacement.
The jig was up, however, after a performance whose audience happened to include one Mrs. Hicks, Mr. Davis’s third-grade teacher from North Carolina.
POWERS BOOTHE, ACTOR KNOWN FOR ‘DEADWOOD’ AND OTHER DARK ROLES
The death was confirmed by his publicist, Karen Samfilippo. She did not specify the cause.
Mr. Boothe lent his burly frame and Texas drawl to numerous TV series beginning in the late 1970s. In addition to the acclaimed HBO series “Deadwood,” he was seen on shows including “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Nashville” and “24,” on which he played the vice president of the United States. Among the movies in which he appeared were “Red Dawn” (1984), “Marvel’s The Avengers” (2012) and Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” (1995), in which he played Alexander Haig.
He won an Emmy in 1980 for outstanding lead actor in a limited series or special for his performance as the leader of the Jonestown cult in the mini-series “Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones.”
He crossed a picket line during an actors’ strike to accept the award. “This may be either the bravest moment of my career or the dumbest,” he said, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Powers Allen Boothe was born on June 1, 1948, and grew up on a cotton farm in West Texas, where “we didn’t have anything to do in my little town except drive fast cars, play pool and go to the bootlegger, the drive-in, and a lot of places I shouldn’t have been in,” he told The New York Times in 1979.
“I decided I was not going to make my living beating my head against someone else,” he said in the 1979 interview. “I got a lot of flak; in Texas, football is not only the social thing you must do, but you do it also to prove your manhood. They all couldn’t conceive of why I’d want to stop to do ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’”
He attended Southwest Texas State University — he said he was the first one in his family to go to college — and then received a master’s degree in drama from Southern Methodist University.
He began his acting career with two years at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He then moved to New York, which he described as being “like a foreign country.” He made his first and last appearance on Broadway in 1979 in the one-act play “Lone Star.”
In 1983 and again in 1986, Mr. Boothe portrayed the private eye Philip Marlowe in an HBO series based on stories by Raymond Chandler. Reviewing it for The New York Times, John J. O’ Connor praised Mr. Boothe for giving an “emotionally convincing” performance that “would have had Raymond Chandler’s approval.”
MICHAEL PARKS, ‘TWIN PEAKS’ ACTOR AND TARANTINO FAVORITE
Michael Parks, a character actor who enjoyed a career renaissance in recent decades thanks to high profile roles in films by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith, died Wednesday at the age of 77.
Parks’ agent confirmed the actor’s death to The Hollywood Reporter, though a cause of death was not revealed.
Parks made his acting debut in a small role in 1961 on the sitcom The Real McCoys, and, over the ensuing decades, racked up dozens of roles on both television and feature films, most notably as the casino owner and drug runner Jean Renault on the second season of Twin Peaks.
After years playing bit roles in made-for-TV movies, Westerns and slasher films, Parks was cast as Texas Ranger Earl McGraw in Rodriguez’ 1996 vampire flick From Dusk ’til Dawn. Quentin Tarantino, an associate of Rodriguez’, then cast Parks in a dual role for Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Volume 2; in the former, he reprised the McGraw role, while the latter found the actor playing Mexican pimp Esteban Vihaio.
Parks would portray McGraw once more for Tarantino and Rodriguez in the directors’ Grindhouse films. Tarantino also recruited Parks for a small role in Django Unchained.
Parks’ career revival also resulted in roles in Ben Affleck’s Argo, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford and a pair of Kevin Smith horror flicks, Red State and Tusk.
“Michael was, and will likely forever remain, the best actor I’ve ever known. I wrote both [Red State] and [Tusk] FOR Parks, I loved his acting so much,” Smith wrote on Instagram Wednesday. “He was, hands-down, the most incredible thespian I ever had the pleasure to watch perform. And Parks brought out the absolute best in me every time he got near my set.”
At the time of his death, Parks was cast in the upcoming Christian Bale film Hostiles.