It’s not overstating things to say that Debbie Allen is one of the most prominent dance professionals in the United States. She has choreographed for artists including Michael Jackson and Mariah Carey, and has handled the choreography for the Oscars 10 times. She has won three Emmy Awards for her choreography and nabbed a Golden Globe for her role as Lydia Grant in the TV series “Fame.” She is a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, and participated as a judge on “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Now, Allen has another credit that, given her career, might seem small in scope: director and choreographer of a music video at a high school in Downtown Los Angeles.
In March, Allen oversaw the video for “Dream It! Do It!” The five-minute work features an original song created by the students and staff of the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts (also known as Grand Arts) at 450 N. Grand Ave. It had its world premiere on Wednesday, July 15, in Beverly Hills.
About 250 students participated in the video, along with 35 dancers from the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in South Los Angeles. The video was filmed at the $232 million high school that opened in 2009.
Not only did Allen oversee the video pro bono, she recruited several of her Hollywood contacts to work on the project for free,including Oliver Bokelberg, director of photography of the ABC drama “Scandal.” Vocal coach Angel Hart, who has worked with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, created the vocal arrangement. The song was recorded at the private recording studio of former “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” bandleader Rickey Minor.
The mission of the video is to encourage young people to get excited about the arts, and to drive home the importance of arts education to both school districts and charitable causes, Allen said.
“The video is fantastic. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out,” Allen said recently by phone. She added, “This is the first of many projects in the future.”
Allen joined the project through Kim Bruno, the principal of the 1,700-student school. Bruno, the former principal of the prominent LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts in New York City, met Allen when Bruno moved to Los Angeles for the job two years ago. They discussed doing a project together and agreed that a music video featuring students from the Cortines school and Allen’s dance academy was the perfect opportunity.
Bruno said the video is “an artistic call to action for the arts.” It features a group of students singing various parts of the song, while other students participate in the school’s visual art, dance, music and theater programs, culminating with the final scene of hundreds of students in front of the school. Bruno said the importance of the arts is conveyed through the song’s lyrics, along with the passion and enthusiasm of the students.
“I wanted the message to be delivered by our kids,” Bruno said. “They understand more than any educator or politician how important the arts are, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status.”
Thanks to Allen’s connections, they were able to produce the video for $25,000.
“When I first saw the video I cried,” Bruno said. “Coming together on this with Debbie is a high point for me in my career.”
Bruno said plans are to show the video to the student body during the first week of school in August. The video will be posted on the school’s website, YouTube and social media outlets, according to Bruno.