By Walter Rutledge
The Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center’s 40th Anniversary season at the Actor Fund Center, 160 Schermerhorn Street, is in high gear. The third evening presented new, emerging and mid-level choreographers with works ranging from ballet to hip-hop. The performance expressed the founding credo of the organization by presenting the diverse and innovative choreography of artists of color.
The evening opened with a series of solo works. Francesca Harper’s Deconstructing Flack consisted of two solo works echoing the theme of love and loss. Both works, set to the music of Roberta Flack, took the audience from prologue to epilogue.
Erika Lisaku danced the opening solo with a poignant despair. Harper captured the haunting quality of Flack’s First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. In the second solo dancer Amanda Sachs conveyed the acceptance of her situation. More reflective and introspective Ballad of the Sad Young Men had a feeling of resolve.
Toro (pool in a river) by Takeshi Ohashi moved with an elegant quiet control. Danced by Ohashi, with live trumpet accompaniment by Justin Osouna Chance, the impressive movement quality combined tight, isolated movement with sweeping floor work. The works fluidity and grounded quality evoked both the purposeful nature Tai Chi and the explosive excitement of break dance.
The last solo, William Isaac’s charming No Banana Skirt, offered an upbeat and fun variation. Amanda Smith danced the lively and energetic pointe piece with technical proficiency and an effervescent deportment. Both the performance and choreography encapsulated the fun spirit of the Josephine Baker’s rendition of Bye Bye Blackbird.
Purelements: An Evolution in Dance closed the first act with The Call by Men Ca. Danced by the junior company the work effectively blended West African and modern dance. The level of professionalism and commitment endeared this group of young performers to the audience, and became one of the most satisfying aspects of the performance.
The Hip-Hop dance crew Special Ops five-man dance crew consisting of Ptah, Floats, Twist, Press, Rachett and Ej wowed the audience. The crew exemplified the evolution of the urban art form synonymous with 80’s street culture to 21st century inner city storytelling through a codified movement style. Using Flexing (isolated movement and contortions, Gliding (floating across the floor) and Shotta Dance (derived from Reggae dancehall) Special Ops shared a gritty reality ripped from today’s headlines.
Nijawwon Matthew’s XY Dance Project transported us from rap to Bach with his ensemble dance Work Forty. The work blended modern, ballet, gymnastics and “Matthews” to create a visual and kinesthetic excitement. Costumed in white bras, and briefs the dancers donned olive-green ski mask type headgear by Project Runaway’s Mondo Guerra, which reminiscence Robert Rauschenberg work in Paul Taylor’s Three Epitaphs. Matthew continues to find his own voice, and we commend and encourage him to keep exploring.
Earl Mosley’s Diversity of Dance closed with Wild and Free! (Draft 5). The jazz infused modern dance ensemble work featured a cast of 23 dancers, and quickly evolved into a witty high-energy pure dance crescendo. Mosley’s ability to bring out the best in every member of the ensemble has become one of his true strengths.
Alexander Diaz distinguished himself with abandoned risk taking and a focused attack, which made it hard not to watch him. The duet between Christine Caimares and Riccardo Bataglia had a strong yet sensual combativeness attack that (thankfully) avoided violence.
The 40th Anniversary Season continues tonight with a new line up diverse choreographers. The roster includes Jamal Story, Jean Emile, HSA Dance Ensemble, Charles Moore Dance Theater, Ronald K. Alexander, Abdiel Jacobsen and Bones The Machine. The evening will open with a special tribute to Loretta Abbott presented by Tony and Emmy Award winner George Faison.
For more information and tickets visit www.thelmahill.com tickets can also be purchased at the box office 30 minutes prior to the performance.