Emmy Award-winning choreographer Debbie Allen will theatrically transform QPAC into the tough streets of Los Angeles when Freeze Frame makes its premiere at Brisbane Festival.
“Freeze Frame is all about the challenges that young people growing up in LA face when their lives collide with police and gangs and education and religion and love and just the disenfranchisement by virtue of their cultural identity and their zip code,” Allen explains with passion.
The production, which fuses music, dance and theatre, has been choreographed, written and directed by Debbie, whose illustrious life and career includes playing the legendary Lydia Grant in Fame, projects with Michael Jackson and Sammy Davis Jr, 10 years choreographing the Oscars, serving as a judge on So You Think You Can Dance (USA), and directing key episodes of Gray’s Anatomy.
“I have grown up in LA all my adult life and as much as I was admired and celebrated and working, all the time I always knew how it felt to be marginalised. I was upset by the loss of some young people feeling like they didn’t have a future and I knew that something had to be done about that.”
So she did. She capitalised on her years of expertise in the performing arts and established the Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA) in South Central LA — a haven for local kids experiencing life’s harshest realities.
“So that’s what Freeze Frame is about — it’s about young people and how some of them are changing their lives through dance and the arts and how that can change and uplift their lives, but at the end of the day it’s also about the tragic events that they are witnessing daily.”
In Freeze Frame, these incredibly talented kids will take the stage and share their true stories as part of an electric cast from LA and Australia that includes Ms Allen herself.
“I’ve always been working with young people and I started DADA because I love dance and I wanted to see how I could offer this to young people who deserve the opportunity, as there is such inequity in education and art opportunities for young people in places that are economically challenged. There’s a cast of 29 in Freeze Frame, and of that 29 there’s probably about 15 or so that are current or graduating students of the academy. I’m actually playing two parts — the wife of Rev. Bishop Washington who has a huge ministry in Los Angeles and also that of Rosanna, a black American/Mexican American who’s the grandma of a young boy haunted by gang members.”
The project was initiated when Brisbane Festival Artistic Director Noel Staunton was moved by the reality of LA and approached Debbie Allen to bring the project to life.
“We started working on it over seven years ago when we first met — he came to see me in Atlanta when I was directing an adaption of Oliver Twist and we started working on it back then, then we kind of put it away and pulled it back out again.”
It’s a collaboration that has facilitated a close bond and seen Ms Allen making the arduous trips between LA and Brisbane.
“I truly admire Noel and can’t praise him enough for being such a visionary in guiding not only this festival to its international status but also the way he midwifes great work and nurtures stories that need to be told. He is truly brilliant… I just love the theatre culture in Australia, which is so dynamic and has an audience that is open and looking for new experiences.”
Freeze Frame boasts a powerful musical component with a soundtrack that bounces between hip hop, soul, gospel and R&B led by musical director Rickey Minor whose credits include American Idol, the Grammy Awards and numerous superstar tours including Christina Aguilera, Beyonce and Ray Charles.
“It’s music, it’s dance, it’s theatre, it’s also film and I’d have to say that it’s every aspect of my upbringing. I have trained in the classics as a young student, translating Homer at Howard University and I trained in many techniques of dance from modern to ballet and then I became a film director so I’m using all the aspects that I learnt and have developed in myself as an artist and it’s the first time that I’m using all that in one production.”
As the project’s developed, Debbie has drawn a correlation between the disadvantages faced by youth in LA to the plight faced by young Aboriginals in Australia.
“You have an entire nation, a culture of the Indigenous Australians that can relate to this very directly. That are marginalised by ethnic identity and where they live, I know Brisbane is looking inward to make changes on that, but it’s a long road and a very relevant story for Australia.”
Debbie will also be bringing her own singing group for a performance at QPAC the Sunday before ‘Freeze Frame’ opens.
“It’s called Kids Crew and it’s a group of young people who sing and dance who are going to have a concert down on the grounds at QPAC right before the light show.”
This year’s Brisbane Festival wants to hold up a mirror to society and tell these stories in an honest and creative way, through raw, striking and emotional art that uses the human body as a canvas.
“We believe Freeze Frame is a truly powerful piece that’s going to want to be seen in many parts of the world. Dance is a language that is spoken all over, I remember as a child wanting to speak it, to learn it, and I’m still discovering it. I want to offer young people the same opportunities, as they deserve what I call the greatest gift — a possibility.”
Freeze Frame runs from September 19 – 22 at QPAC’s Playhouse Theatre as part of Brisbane Festival.