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Movin’ to Motown

Cliff Porter,        O Womack, Chilkezie Okorie and El Graves are so difficult to resist, they might as well be          The Temptations.

Cliff Porter, O Womack, Chilkezie Okorie and El Graves are so difficult to resist, they might as well be The Temptations.

Photo By Nick Higman

“I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day
When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May.”

As an instrumental version of The Temptation’s “My Girl” blares in the practice studio, four men quite a bit younger than the song itself sing the lyrics in near-perfect harmony. Dressed in white tuxes with black bow ties and brightly polished black shoes, they look the part of proper entertainers.

Sitting in on a rehearsal with Reno Dance Company is like a history lesson in soul music. RDC Productions is preparing for the debut of its new show Movin’ to Motown, a part of the Artown festival, which will be performed July 6, at Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts.

“We start with the oldest Motown and come to the most current stuff that’s being played today,” says Lesa Dusich, artistic director of RDC Productions.

The list is chock-full of the classics: The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, and Stevie Wonder, to name a few. It also has a few names you might not usually associate with the greats of yesteryear—like, for example, Lindsay Lohan.

“You know all the songs even if you don’t know [who sings] them—and I think the young people will be surprised by how much they do know,” says Dusich. She makes a legitimate point—nearly everyone can hum along to “My Girl.”

According to Dusich, there are eight singers and 22 dancers in the show. It’s fast-paced—the performers run through 25 numbers in an hour and 15 minutes, including intermission.

“We do a little bit of everything … from a little bit of ballet to a little bit of tap… there’s a little bit of everything for everyone,” Dusich says. As she is explaining the dance routines, a familiar song comes on: “I’ve been really tryin', baby/ Tryin’ to hold back this feeling for so long"—it’s Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On.”

“There’s a little bit of sexy in it,” says Dusich. “Marvin Gaye was sexy … [We’re trying to] create a little heat, even, with Marvin Gaye. So yeah, it’s not all just up-and-happy. There’s a lot of depth to it.”

Early Motown influenced nearly all music that came after it. Pop, R&B and hip-hop artists today sample Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder on a regular basis. And boy bands of all genres are still studying The Temptations.

“That’s where [R&B] came from at first,” says 18-year-old singer Chikezie Okorie, who learned most of the songs recently. “It’s good performing old-time music from the best of the best. It’s fun.”

Soul music touches on timeless subjects, like love.

“That’s the thing about Motown music,” says Dusich. “It never gets old. It’s just good music.”