By Walter Rutledge
Deeply Rooted Dance Theater presented Generations II Here’s To Life! for three performances; Friday, November 21 through Sunday November 23 in the James and Martha Duffy Performance Space at the Mark Morris Dance Center, downtown Brooklyn. The Chicago based ensemble presented a concert that was deeply rooted in the dance theatre tradition. Artistic Director Kevin Iega Jeff and Associate Artistic Director Gary Abbott have made the courageous decision to offer original dance works that ranged from dance narratives to theatrical abstract works with strong dramatic undertones. The result was an evening of well structured choreography performed with considerable artistic depth.
Ferrotype opened the program. Billed as, “Captured images in the lives of twentieth century plain folk”, the ballet was a panacea of Black life. It harkened back to a time of downhome values in a world when the northern migration was a Band-Aid not a cure.
The full company work choreographed by Jeff and Abbott was a study in nuanced movement and gesture. The use of tableau and theme and development were the choreographic underpinning. Here the concept of the choreographer as a “teacher of movement” was not only evident, but also an essential design element.
Malikah Fernandez had the most challenging role; the ingénue assumed the persona of granny- the elderly matriarch. Fernandez performed with the required folksy majesty, and created a believable sustained character. Man Ca as the father parlayed a cameo (he dies early and then return for the last 32 counts) into a memorable role.
The second half of the program offered a series of five smaller works. Artistry aside, this was a wise production move. The programming provided a balance to the presentation and created the proper pacing.
The vignettes produced a “dance buffet” offering something for every palette. Wild is the Wind with music by Nina Simone was the perfect second act appetizer. The duet danced by Ghrai DeVore and Joshua Ishmon provided both artists an ideal platform to express through gifts.
DeVore was truly captivating, she transcended the movement blurring the lines between technique and artistry- in other words, she just made you want to watch her. Ishmon was the appropriate danseur noble. His selfless framing was eloquently restrained; he never needed to upstage his partner, instead he made his presence known with quiet supportive masculine strength.
The world premiere of Nicole Clarke-Springer’s female quartet Until Lambs Become Lions was an engaging movement statement. Dancers Dominque Atwood, Malikah Fernandez, Jennifer Florentino and Nina-Rose Wardanian rose to the challenge. Each artist told their own story in a solo and then joined forces in an empowering final statement. Clarke-Springer presented four distinct and strong facets of womanhood and their closing act of unity was symbolic of combating the universal human struggle.
Jeff and Abbott’s collaborative work Heaven closed the program and was a memorable high energy final dance. The ensemble work had many moments worthy of a crowd-pleasing finale. The underlying thread that carried the work and excited the audience was the male choreography. The clever symbiotic weaving of traditional and vernacular (street inspired) movement especially for the men provoked powerful kinesthetic imagery, which in turn, evoked a strong reaction from the audience.
The Deeply Rooted Dance Theater performance was a welcome addition to the New York fall dance season. Jeff and Abbott continue to develop the movement philosophy started with Jubilations Dance Company over a quarter of a century ago. To stay true to your vision and establish an artistic beacon, that inner light will attract and cultivate the best and brightest. Don’t be a stranger; come back soon- we have missed you.
A Conversation with Kevin Iega Jeff and Gary Abbott