A three-time Emmy Award winner, Tony-nominated, and a Drama Desk winner, Debbie Allen is a beloved performer who has long been considered one of the country’s best dancers and choreographers. Her role as dance teacher Ms. Lydia Grant in both the film and TV versions of “Fame,” delivering the “you want fame, well fame costs” speech is one of the most iconic moments of the ’80s.
A few years ago, Allen started work on a theatrical piece that would combine dance, song and performance art to look into the challenging experiences of young, disenfranchised African-Americans and Latinos growing up in the inner city. The result is “Freeze Frame…Stop the Madness,” which is coming to the Kennedy Center for five performances, Oct. 27-30.
“The show is a dance-driven narrative that addresses socio-political problems such as gun violence, gangs, addiction, abuse, and race relations—a lot of things that people in the inner city and everywhere struggle with,” said Vivian Nixon, one of the show’s principal dancers and Allen’s daughter. “It’s also a message of inspiration that in the midst of dark, there’s always a place you can find hope—a church, a mentor, your community. It’s a great story and something that’s completely relevant today.”
In addition to Allen and her daughter, the cast includes a mix of seasoned professionals including Tony Award winner Clinton Derricks; “So You Think You Can Dance” finalist William Wingfield; up-and-coming internationally acclaimed vocalist Matthew Johnson; DADA alumni Dion Watson; and past and present students from the Debbie Allen Dance Academy.
“The characters we follow in the show are young teenagers,” Nixon said. “Sometimes parents want to shelter their children but what we talk about are things that are happening in real life. It’s educational and exposes kids to the same problems they see every day at school and in the media.”
Written, directed and choreographed by Allen, the show begins with a single moment when the characters’ lives collide, and the story quickly unfolds following the dilemma and choices they face and the hope that they hold.
“She’s constantly updating the script because new incidents occur in the news and she wants current references,” Nixon said. “It’s an evolving story that has a lot of great dance, music and acting.”
The dance-driven work includes original music by Stevie Wonder, James Ingram, Ricky Minor, Arturo Sandoval, and Thump, and addresses the conversation about gun violence in America, the call for social progress, and the value of human life.
“Dance is a great way to get a message out. It’s art. The same way a picture tells a story, dance is just a series of moving pictures,” Nixon said. “People have a way of looking at dance as gymnastics, but we are not in a competition; we are artists who tell stories with our bodies.”
While the music supports and drives the dance, Nixon noted that the vocals are relevant and help to tell the story.
“When you can’t say anything more, you dance and take the storytelling to the next level,” she said. “We have pieces that range from a ballad lyrical dance to some hard-hitting bass music rap music; it’s really a dynamic score.”
Being the daughter of Allen and former pro basketball player Norm Nixon, she was never frightened of the limelight and showed the talent of her mother early on in life.
“Dancing was just the thing I did growing up,” she said. “It was something I fell in love with at one point. Obviously, my mother put it on the table for me, and I did jazz, hip-hop, ballet, and my love for it filtered me into other aspects of the arts as well.”
Nixon, who has starred on Broadway and TV herself, serves as the associate artistic director and early bird Dean of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy and is thrilled to be back on stage with her family for the show. She’s also happy to be back in D.C. with this show, having spent three years at the Kirov Academy of Ballet.
“‘Freeze Frame’ is a show that is relevant to everyone. Whether it addresses something you have lived through, or something that starts a conversation, or something you have been witnessing,” she said. “Although some of the subject matter is heavy, it’s widely entertaining and people will come out feeling inspired.”