By Walter Rutledge
Legacy, a shared concert between Brooklyn based Jamel Gaine’s Creative Outlet and Chicago’s Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, presented a well curated evening of dance theatre works at BAM Fisher on Friday and Saturday September 13 and 14, 2019. Founding directors Jamel Gaines and Deeply Rooted’s Kevin Jeff (both Queens natives and Bernice Johnson Dance School alums) presented a concert of shared dance philosophies. The evening had a kindred aesthetic; presenting seven works spanning thirty-five years.
The program opened with Patti Labelle’s When You’ve Been Blessed by Jamel Gaines for the Creative Outlet C.A.P. Students. The work functioned as the programs prelude, and a showcase for promising performers from the Creative Outlet’s Brooklyn based school. This performance also displayed one of Gaines’ most endearing attributes his ability to imbue the next generation of performing artists with the spirit of dance.
Gaines and Deeply Rooted’s newly appointed Artistic Director Nicole Clarke- Springer greeted the audience. The two directors enthusiastically shared the evenings’ theme and concept, while both expressed their heartfelt gratitude to dancers, staff and the audience. Two solos followed the greeting, each displayed the evening’s dance theatre theme. These theatrical works exemplified the expressive, narrative, storytelling nature of the dance theatre genre; which is one of the founding pillars of the Black dance tradition.
The Hanging Tree (2019), choreographed by Gaines and performed by James Banks Davis, was a powerful movement manifesto. Again, Gaines masterfully brought the best of Davis to the forefront. The “Krump infused” Hip-Hop style dominated the choreography, and Gaines cleverly transformed the pure dance urban art form into a concert dance abstract narrative.
Cristo Redentor (2014) choreographed by Men Ca with music by Donald Byrd offered a poignant pathos driven solo. Dancer William Robertson’s interpretation was spot on. Combining strong technical prowess with an aura of penitence and demeanor filled with ecclesiastic restraint.
Flack (1984) has become a signature work of Deeply Rooted and choreographer Kevin Iega Jeff. The thirty-five-year-old lyric musical tribute to singer Roberta Flack captures the singer’s themes of pain, loneliness, love and love lost. Jeff developed this sextet, consisting of three men and three women, into six distinct characters; each clearly speaking with an individual choreographic voices.
Flack was the oldest work on the program; and in many respects, this early work acted as a barometer for Jeff’s then evolving choreographic style. Ballet, Horton, Jazz, and West African dance coupled with strong dramatic and theatrical elements meld together to create Jeff’s exciting and focused abstract narrative/dance theatre style.
Gary Abbott’s Parallel Lives (2018) became a refreshing addition to the program. The energetic female sextet provided a more abstract, movement driven work. Abbott’s approach produced a well-structured dance rich in nuance and textural design.
Wild is the Wind (2013), an impassioned duet by Jeff provided a wonderful moment of introspection and reflection. Joshua L. Ishmon brought his partnering “A game”; he and Jennifer Florentino created a seamless ribbon of partnered movement. To Jeff’s credit the artists develop a conversation through the movement that became a dancing love letter.
The program culminated with the evening’s only world premiere Jamel Gaines’ Tribal Truth. The full ensemble work set to the music of Nigerian Afrobeats pioneer Fela Keti was a celebration of West African dance. Tribal Truth had a dual function; first, as a rousing finale, and as the evening last salutation in the form of a choreographed bow for cast member and directors.
The evening closed with a heartfelt epilog by Jeff on the power of our ecosystem. A world of like-minded people growing, sharing and coexisting; helping one another by simply moving forward together. We encourage further joint explorations and look forward to Legacy 2.
In Photo: 1) Rebekah Kuczma, Ricky Davis, Dominique 2) Briana Arthur, Joshua Henry 3) The Company
Photography by Michelle Reid