Performance artist and author Pat Cleage adores the music of Miles Davis. So her friends urged her to read his recent autobiography. It was well known that Davis had overcome a lifelong drug and alcohol addiction. What caught Cleage by surprise -- for two reasons -- was Davis's matter-of-fact description of how he used to beat his wife, actress Cicely Tyson.
First, Cleage was alarmed by the casualness of his remarks. "There was no remorse," she says.
Second, she was amazed that her friends took no offense at it. "Like they were saying, 'The music is so wonderful, so we don't look at the fact that he slaps women around.' "
She was disturbed by the idea that beating a black woman was regarded the same as, say, a pickup basketball game. A sport, of sorts.
It's not, says Cleage. And she's doing something about it. She's written a book, "Mad at Miles: A Black Woman's Guide to the Truth," that addresses the problem of physical abuse, and she's going from city to city, presenting her case in performance-readings.
"This is not directed at Miles only," she says straight off, although she points out, "I don't think we should emulate his life. It is a general look at the whole issue of battery. Five women are killed each day and 6 million go to hospitals a year because of battering. I don't stand there and make a fuss. I say, 'Look, what can we do to stop this?' "
Cleage compares the feeling of humiliation that black women experience when black men abuse them to the frustration that black men feel when they are subjected to racial discrimination.
"I have found that if I can make that initial connection," she says, "that the things that drive them crazy when they confront racism are the same things that makes us crazy when we confront sexism, it makes it all completely understandable."
Rather than standing at a podium, "pointing a finger and droning on and on," Cleage presents what she calls "heightened contemporary storytelling" -- passages from "Mad at Miles" combined with essays and articles by other authors, all set to the lush blues of pianist Doug Carn, flutist Kent Jordan, bassist Chaney Thomas and drummer Steve Williams. "They know I don't hate Miles Davis," she says with a laugh.
And she hopes, through these performances, that she can make people think -- and maybe change.
Cleage will perform at Cates tonight at 8. A donation of $5 is suggested. For information, call 202-363-2600. FROM THE LAND OF DIXIELAND Dixieland jazz and Cajun music are both Louisiana-born. Both are knee-slapping and joyous. And both are steeped in family tradition.
Doc Paulin's Dixieland Jazz Band has been playing the rollicking, horn-hootin' music that's synonymous with New Orleans for more than 60 years. It's festive and fun, a carnival of clarinets and brass played by Paulin and five of his sons. Just listen to their version of "When the Saints Go Marching In." It'll make you boogie whether you're at a concert in New Orleans's famed Preservation Hall or in a funeral procession winding down a French Quarter back street. A mixture of African and Caribbean rhythms polished by smooth, down-home Southern warmth, Dixieland jazz is pure elation.
Cajun music, on the other hand, comes straight out of the bayous. "A combination of waltz and two-step," says Lawrence Ardoin, it's filled with sing-song accordion playing and seesaw fiddling. Unlike zydeco, a popular bluesy bayou sound, Cajun is more folksy. "Cajun has a longer stroke," explains Ardoin. "Zydeco has a shorter, bopping beat -- something you can go out and swing out to instead of holding hands and doing the two-step."
The Ardoins have been known for decades as the first family of Cajun music: Lawrence's great uncle Amede is considered to be the originator, and his father, Bois Sec Ardoin, "refined it." The basis is the accordion, which nearly everyone in the family has played at one time or another.
Ardoin remembers that his childhood home was always a meeting place for musicians. "Sometimes they'd come just to see him play," he says of his father, his Cajun accent mossy and muffled. "Sometimes they'd come with fiddle and accordion. People on the road. People from other towns. Everybody wanted to come play with Bois Sec." One of those folks was legendary fiddle player Canray Fontenot. In 1948, the two formed the Duralde Ramblers and played dance halls in southwestern Louisiana. More than 30 years later, they're still performing together, both honored by the National Endowment for the Arts for making significant contributions to Louisiana's musical heritage.
Doc Paulin's Dixieland Jazz Band and the Ardoins will perform at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium Saturday night at 8. Tickets are $20 and available at TicketCenter. For information, call 202-994-1500. DANCE OF HOPE In the summer of 1989, the local modern dance choreographer David Holmes premiered the first part of a three-part work in an AIDS benefit called "A Dance for Life Now." Holmes, however, never finished the piece -- he succumbed to the disease himself six months later.
Two friends, dancer-choreographers Linda Gottfried and Paul Gordon Emerson, took Holmes's notes and tried to put together what they thought David wanted to do in the two final parts. This week, they are presenting the completed work as part of A New Dance for Life, a benefit presented by David Holmes & Friends, a group of area dancers, choreographers and performance artists.
"Dawn of Young Spirit" is what Emerson calls "a triumph in spirit."
The first and third sections, with a full orchestral score, "are very lighthearted, about togetherness," he says. The middle section (the part Emerson re-created) is much simpler in structure. Set to piano accompaniment, it explores the emotions of the three main characters. "It's about what it means to discover one's sexuality, about questioning," says Emerson. "About resolving the conflicts."
Holmes is also the subject of another piece Emerson is premiering for the benefit. Called "Never Far From Him," it looks at Holmes's relationship to his companion, Craig McHenry, whom he met at an AIDS counseling session, and to his dancers. It is set to a poem McHenry wrote for him.
A third work to be premiered is Keith Lee's "Subliminal Message." Lee, former ballet master for the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and former principle dancer for American Ballet Theatre, created this 25-minute work in honor of Ailey, who died last year of AIDS.
"This piece is about passage," says Emerson. "About moving from life to death, but doing it in a way that's neither morbid or depressing or depressed. I think he looked at it in the way Ailey dealt with the disease himself."
A New Dance for Life will also feature members of the Washington Ballet, Dance Exchange, Deborah Riley Dance Projects and others. A benefit for LifeLink, a local "AIDS empowerment organization," it will be presented at George Washington University's Marvin Center on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and available at Joy of Motion, Dance Center and the Marvin Center. For information, call 202-387-0911.