1/31/17 O&A NYC DANCE REVIEW: Dallas Black Dance Theatre

By Walter Rutledge

Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) returned to New York City on January 5th and 6th as part of the Joyce Theater’s American Dance Platform. The series (curated by Alicia Adams and dedicated to the memory of former Harkness Foundation for Dance executive director Theodore Bartwink) offered a diverse group of eight dance companies including the new, emerging and established. Each company appeared twice on a double-billed program. Dallas Black Dance Theatre closed the five-day/six performance dance-fest on a high note. 

Founder and Artistic Advisor Ann Williams has cultivated the company into the quintessential dance theatre ensemble. The style is an extension of the African-American storytelling tradition expressed through movement, and has become the cornerstone of the black dance experience. DBDT continues this legacy by preserving black dance classics, while introducing new and emerging choreographers working in the tradition. The program offered two works in the dance theatre genre Furtherance by Kirven Douthit-Boyd and Matthew Rushing’s Tribute.

The dance theatre tradition extends beyond modern dance steps; it embodies the total theatrical dance experience. Katherine Dunham helped propel the genre to international recognition through her company’s work in motion pictures during the late 1930’s and 1940’s; but Alvin Ailey is undoubtedly the most recognized dance theatre choreographer. Most people associate Ailey with dance theatre classics Revelations and Blues Suite, but it was Broadway that lured him and his friend Carmen De Lavallade to New York.   

After appearing in the Hollywood production of Carmen Jones (1954) Ailey moved east performing on Broadway in House of Flowers (1954) (by Truman Capote and starring Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll), Sing, Man, Sing (1956) (starring Harry Belafonte) and Jamaica (1957) (with Lena Horne and Ricardo Montalban). These experiences helped shape the Horton-based dancer and choreographer into a song and dance man. Ailey incorporated theatrical elements (including lighting, costumes and acting) into his work creating story based dance narratives. Although Ailey died in 1989 his choreographic genius has continued to influence generations of dance makers.

Kirven Douthit-Boyd’s work, Furtherance, depicts overcoming personal struggle and ends with a celebration of triumph. His use of abstract narrative imagery triumphantly takes us on an uplifting dance odyssey. Furtherance opened with dancer De’Anthony Vaughan sequestered behind a wall of bodies that was aggressively moving upstage. Vaughan quickly eludes the advancing impediment with a series of second position extensions, before continuing on his journey.

Douthit-Boyd worked through a contemporary dance vocabulary that reminisced signature movement from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Well placed second position extensions, arabesque and attitude turns en dehor peppered the work with ample modern/ballet aplomb. Designed as a series of vignettes the centerpiece of the work was a duet featuring Claude Alexander III and Alyssa Harrington.

Alexander III and Harrington have grown into the roles since DBDT debuted Furtherance in the 2016 Spring Season. This allowed the audience to look beyond the steps and experience the artistry. The seamless lifts and ardent partnering had maturated into effective abstract narrative storytelling. Here Douthit-Boyd successfully trusted the movement to reveal the story, while subtle and nuanced gestures enhanced the section without becoming saccharine.

Keon K. Nickie’s short but energetic solo acted as the catalyst, drawing the dancers into his vortex. In this section Douthit-Boyd artfully created the required rising action to transition into the finale. Harrington returns alone culminating the work dancing in a protective circular cocoon of amber down light.

Matthew Rushing appropriately named his new ensemble work Tribute. The work is a black dance history lesson told through multiple mediums including movement, spoken word, lighting and scenic design.  Rushing added a new word to the dance lexicon- Dancestors; which also encapsulates the ballet’s objective.

Throughout the work the names and quotes of iconic figures in dance including 20th century legends Alvin Ailey, Talley Beatty, Janet Collins, Katherine Dunham, Martha Graham, Sammy Davis Jr. and Carmen de Lavallade were interspersed. While dancer, actress and choreographer Hope Clark and Rushing created a voiceover track with quotes from Judith Jamison, Donald McKayle, Dr. Pearl Primus and DBDT dancers. The collective effect helped to create an ancestral family tree of dance artists, with an emphasis on African- American performers.    

As in Furtherance the most impressive section was a duet. Male performers Claude Alexander III and Sean J. Smith combined their talents as singer and tap dancer respectively, transforming the Joyce stage into an intimate Uptown cabaret. Rushing provided these two talented performers an avenue to extend their range, and both young artists rose to the occasion.

In the ensuing ensemble sections Rushing continued to reference 20th century dance. Most notably a rendition of Wade In The Water was mixed into the score. Rushing had performed this section of Revelations while a member of the Ailey Company; and the imagery produced seemed less personal/autobiographic and more personable/first person.

For years the art of storytelling through dance has been marginalized in favor of plotless exercises in “pure” movement. Many dance performances seem to mimic nouvelle cuisine; it is interesting to look at, even satisfying to the palette, but not always fulfilling. The Dallas Black Dance Theatre honors the black dance tradition and the dance theatre genre, while helping to move the art form into the 21st century.

 

 

11/20/16 O&A NYC GOSPEL SUNDAY: Mahalia Jackson- The Queen Of Gospel

GOSPEL SUNDAY

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Mahalia Jackson, The Queen of Gospel, became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world. She became an internationally acclaimed singer and civil rights activist. Entertainer Harry Belafonte described Jackson as “the single most powerful black woman in the United States”. She recorded about 30 albums.  Continue reading

11/2/15 O&A Hollywood Monday: Harry Belafonte

Hollywood Mondays

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Harold George “Harry” Belafonte, Jr. (born March 1, 1927) is a singer, songwriter, actor, social activist, and Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Governors Awards honoree. One of the most successful Caribbean American pop stars in history, he was dubbed the King of Calypso for popularizing the Caribbean musical style with an international audience in the 1950s. His breakthrough album Calypso (1956) is the first million selling album by a single artist. Continue reading

12/17/14 O&A Dance: REVIEW ODETTA- Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

By Walter Rutledge
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On Wednesday December 10, 2014 the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre presented the world premiered of ODETTA, a new work by company resident guest artist/rehearsal director Matthew Rushing. The work is a third of an evening dance theatre work set on an ensemble of eleven dancers. Rushing has created a work that harkens back to the company’s founding principles of conveying the human condition through the soul and spirit of the African-American experience. Continue reading

9/20/14 O&A Its Saturday: Ruby Dee Memorial Service Livestream Today 11am

It is Saturdayyiqlwwzy7so8c6c6nzcrA memorial for actress and civil rights activist Ruby Dee is scheduled to begin Saturday, September 20 at 11 a.m. ET/10 a.m. CT. The service will be held at the Riverside Church in New York and will feature music by Alicia Keys and Audra McDonald, reflections by former Mayor David Dinkins and Sonia Sanchez, and a eulogy by Harry Belafonte. Dee died June 11 at 91. Continue reading

9/15/14 Reflections on Katherine Dunham and Lavinia Williams (part one)

By Noel Nantambu Hall

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 Katherine Dunham laid some sturdy foundations in arts and education that would not only benefit her era, but mushroom through the years and inspire new foundations and further growth. Education and the self-reaffirming power it wielded on an individual, group or society had clearly evidenced itself on her development and growing consciousness in the mid-nineteen thirties, and at the forefront were dance and anthropology. Continue reading

8/24/14- O&A Gospel Sunday: Mahalia Jackson- The Queen Of Gospel

GOSPEL SUNDAY

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Mahalia Jackson, The Queen of Gospel, became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world. She became an internationally acclaimed singer and civil rights activist. Entertainer Harry Belafonte described Jackson as “the single most powerful black woman in the United States”. She recorded about 30 albums.  Continue reading