By Walter Rutledge
The Dallas Black Dance Theatre returned to New York for a three-day four-performance season at the Ailey Citigroup Theater. This is the third consecutive year that the company has performed in New York and the eleven-member ensemble, under the direction of founder and artistic director Ann M. Williams, presented six works by new and emerging choreographers. The diverse works spoke in many dance dialects, but shared one common language; the abstract narrative/dance theater genre with strong dramatic undertones. A style well suited for the technically proficient troupe of seasoned young professionals.
Lost in Memory by choreographer Nejla Y. Yatlin opened the program. The full ensemble work began with six dancer staggered in two linear lines unrolling parchment scrolls. A prologue was then projected on the scrolls and continued to roll up the cyclorama behind the dancers. The stillness of the performers juxtaposed the moving text providing a strong theatrical moment as the cryptic prognostication rolled above.
The ensuring dance choreographed in two sections the first had a ritual feeling and an andante tempo with sustained lines and deliberate linear groupings. The second section was up-tempo and more dynamic with movement ranging from leaps performed with abandon energy to earthbound movement accented by ungulate torsos. Throughout the work the dancers reverently carried the rolled parchments as if it possessed their qi. The work concluded as it began with the still dancers unrolling the parchment as a projected epilogue rolled across the paper and on to the cyclorama.
Chang Yong Sung’s Requiem began with Sean J. Smith alone on stage moving upstage in silence. As he came to rest on the floor, Richard A. Freeman Jr. joined Smith. The visceral duet that followed employed a great deal of effective images derived from gestural and sculptural movement, and the physical interaction between the dancers. The driving score by Clint Marshall helped to heighten the dramatic intensity.
In The Edge of My Life ….So Far choreographer Bruce Woods took full advantage of dancer Nycole Ray’s focused presence. The 16-year company veteran had the artistic maturity to perform this introspective and nuanced work. Seated at a table Ray took us on a tormented journey, which was a total performance and not just a dance.
The work was laden with strong theatrical elements, including a white powder that covered the table. Ray wrote private messages in the powder, and a one point danced on top of the table dispersing the powder into the air. Eventually Ray arrived at a resolution in solitude and stillness.
Southern Recollections: For Romare Bearden by Bridget L. Moore was the evenings most developed work. Moore, a recipient of a 2012 Princess Grace Award in Choreography, used projected works from Romare Bearden’s Mecklenburg and Jazz series to pay homage the late American artist. The artwork and the choreography both expressed the collage medium. Through a “collage” of musical selections including Moonlake, John Coltrane, Robert Henke and The Orb, Moore depicted the artist’s work and provided a glimpse into the life of the artist.
Jamie Thompson distinguished himself throughout the work. His solo section, Conjur Man: The Buzzard and the Snake was performed with authority and clear technical prowess. His artistry was also evident in the proceeding section, turning a transition, where he retrieved articles of clothing from the posed mannequin-like ensemble and literally performed a strip tease in reverse.
Choreographer Richard Freeman Jr. described his work Polarity as, “a relationship between two opposing attributes”. He achieved this goal through a series of six duets. Each duet suggested different qualities and dynamics through a unified choreographic style. The emotions and imagery ranged from the abstract sculptural opening section performed by Katricia Eaglin and Christopher McKenzie Jr., the poignant and sentimental second section danced by Jasmine C. Black and Derrick Smith to the sensual fifth movement featuring Alyssa Harrington and Claude Alexander III.
The most interesting section, in contrast, was between Amber J. Merrick and Omoniyi Osoba. The two women dance a strong and competitive duet that offered a kinesthetic mix of technique, line and athleticism. The section that followed featured two men; Richard Freeman Jr. and Sean J. Smith who mirrored the preceding section with varying degrees of success. The work ended with an explosive duet by Michelle Hebert and Jamie Thompson.
The program ended with His Grace, a tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, by Christopher Huggins. The work opened with a montage of projected images of the South African leader and quickly moved into a high-energy ensemble celebration. Huggins used a large cross section of dance styles, which were blended into a satisfying mix of movement. West African dance was prominent throughout, but authentic movement indigenous to the region was surprising absent.
The New York season of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre had one real star this season, Artistic Director Ann Williams. Williams founded the Dallas Black Dance Academy over forty years ago and the company in 1976. This pioneer’s vision provided a much-needed resource for the young people of color in the Dallas area. Over the last 37 years through her tireless and selfless efforts Williams has taken a small regional company to national prominence.
On May 17 she will officially pass the torch, but she indelible mark on the company, and the Dallas dance community will continue. During this season she was clearly at the helm. Watching the performance from the back of the theater, greeting guests before the performance, during the intermission and after the final curtain, and sharing her insight with dance and company enthusiasts whenever possible; Williams performed these duties with a quiet grace and charm that has defined her tenure with the company. Thank you Ann William for your commitment and contributions to dance, and congratulation for a job well done.
In Photo: 1) Awassa Astridge 2) Company (Jamie Thompson center) 3) Ann Williams and Company
Photo Credit: 1)Richard Rodriguez 2) Jaime Truman 3) Steven Ray