By Walter Rutledge
The Dallas Black Dance Theatre presented their annual New York City season entitled Masterworks Redefined on April 22 and 23, 2016 at the Ailey Citigroup Theater. The extremely audience friendly concert offered five works by five dance makers. The works, which included two world premieres, one company premiere and two revivals, showcased the talents of emerging African- American choreographers and early works by more established artists of color.
Every dancer dreams of flying and in the company premiere of Jamal Story’s duet What to Say? Notes on Echo and Narcissus (2015) the dancers got to defy gravity. The work served as a visually satisfying opener with dancer Claude Alexander lll suspended centerstage in a cocoon of white fabric over the plaint Alyssa Harrington. As the ballet developed the dancers utilized the natural momentum of the hanging fabric to produce a pleasant, yet sensual feeling of motion and weightlessness.
Alexander’s partnering remained self-assured while suspended and a’ terre providing a good balance to Harrington’s abandon. The novel concept (novel for concert dance) is derived from the choreographer’s extensive aerial work with such pop music legends as Cher and Madonna. Although impressive the aerial choreography alone could not sustain the integrity of the work. In fact the work faired far better airborne than earthbound, but this can be resolve with more development on the already existing movement theme.
Unearthed (World Premiere 2016), an ensemble work by Bridget L. Moore used a collage of music featuring various renditions of the iconic protest song Strange Fruit. A true abstract narrative, the work challenged the performers to convey more than steps. Moore created strong visual imagery coupled with good choreographic form.
Hana Delong as the grief-stricken mourner, who collapses downstage set the tone for the focused images that would follow. The upstage diagonal crossing into the darkness completed the feeling of sorrow and powerlessness. The imagery continued in a series of linear movement passages that included a militarized marching pattern set upstage and a defiant mid-stage line that went from a raised fist to pointing skyward to the martyred body.
The second world premiere, Furtherance (2016) by Kirven Douthit- Boyd, took us from sorrow to celebration. The pastel colored costumes of tunics and shorts by Beth Thomason added a youthful light feeling to the ensemble work. Often athletic and high-energy, the ballet had ritual overtones, which assisted in conveying the transformation.
The second half of the performance presented two early works by Francesca Harper and Christopher Huggins. Instinct 11.1 is an abstract ensemble work by Harper opened Act II. The 2010 ballet was dedicated to her mother Denise Jefferson who lost battle with cancer that same year. The sextet (for four men Claude Alexander lll, Keon K. Nickie, Sean Smith, De’Anthony Vaughan and two woman Michelle Hebert and Kimara Wood) opened in silence, presenting snippets of movement that retreated back to darkness.
The “teasers” eventually incorporated verbal sounds produced by the dancers, before the percussive score by Les Tambours du Bronx and the main body of the work began. Rhythmic and earthy the dancers exuded a hyper-masculine persona, poising with wide second position stances with clinched fists and working in visceral unison through circular patterns. The work returned to the opening theme ending in silence again accompanied vocally by the performers.
The program closed with Night Run by Christopher L. Huggins. Set in three movements the uptempo group work for the entire company had a Latin flavor inspired by Rene’ Aubry’s score. The 2003 work revealed elements of Huggins’ then emerging choreographic signature.
With a strong sense of design, good use of dynamics and theatrical undertones Huggins moved the ensemble with an ease and proficiency. Exploding movement and steadfast partnering buoyed the work making it a good program closer. Unfortunately the predictable use of ballet steps including pas de couru, pas de chat, and Brisé detracted from the overall strength of the work by breaking the stylistic continuity. Despite this inconsistency Huggins’ then budding talent was still apparent.
The Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Masterworks Redefined performance series turned out to be an artistic leap forward for the company. This well curated program provided the company with a fresh, clear direction/message. We surmise the artistic cohesiveness has a lot to do with the return of Founder and former Artistic Director Ann M. Williams as Artistic Advisor.