Dallas — There is no better way to honor Ann Williams as she retires from 37 years as the founder and artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre than with dance. And that the company did Friday night with performances that also included guest artists from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico, Texas Ballet Theater and Bruce Wood Dance Project.
The road to success for Ms. Williams has been a long and convoluted one that included a serious car injury, the death of a dancer she had hoped to take over her role years ago, frequent financial crisis, and flitting from one studio to another. But Ms. Williams persisted, and the result is a company of exceptionally well-trained dancers, an 11-month contract, tours here and abroad, a solid repertory, a second company, a huge dance academy and a permanent home in the renovated historic former Moorland YMCA.
In signature style, the program opened with the company performing Lily Cabatu Weiss’s taut and aggressive Thrown for a Loop. In the briefest of outfits—red-orange shorts for both men and women, and halter-tops for the women—the nine dancers do move as though “thrown for a loop.” Every limb stretches to the limit as legs shoot upward and torsos tilt, and every angle seems chiseled. Adding tension was John Mackey’s Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra, Movement 1.
If Thrown for a Loop was tense, it had nothing on Richard A. Freeman, Jr.’s Polarity, set to the music of Philip Glass, Kerry Muzzey and Marc Streitenfeld. Each of the six sections captures some sense of the ying and yang of relationships, whether the relationship is between the same sex or male and female, and running the course from tenderness to distrust. Lighting defines isolation by picking up individual bodies. Often an encounter would end by one person walking away and the other sitting on the floor in silence. Polarity has a moody, uneasy quality.
Very different in mood was Christopher Vo’s touch(listen), a celebration of friendship. It opens and ends in semi-darkness with six couples stretched out on the floor, each couple leaning on the back of his or her partner. Then in a swimming motion, they work their way to the other side of the stage. That swimming image returns even when they are upright as they flow into outstretched arms, play a version of ring-around-the-rosy, and fan out while still holding hands.
Just a hint of a bullfight comes through Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico’s Toro Mata, choreographed and performed by Giovanna Prado and Ruben Soto with a lively flourish.
In Alvin Ailey’s excerpt from Long Songs—set to “A Song for You,” recorded music with lyrics by Leon Russell and sung by Donny Hathaway—guest artist Kirven Douthit-Boyd articulates every movement with such clarity that it seems to capture what it means to feel tortured by love. The work opens with him standing in place, then later skirting around the stage, coming to rest with his body folded over.
Ben Stevenson’s Three Preludes featured Texas Ballet Theater’s delicate and demure Carolyn Judson partnered by a very attentive Lucas Priolo. Set to Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Opus 32, No. 10; Opus 23, No. 1; and Opus 32, No. 9, the ballet uses a ballet barre as a motif of both separation and closeness. It opens with the two standing between the barre, slowly and tentatively sliding their hands to touch. From then on, much of their action is a perfect mirror of each other. The barre removed, their action gets larger with languid falls and languid catches, to triumphant lifts and slow rotations. The tenderness displayed in the beginning evolves into ecstasy.
With his usual gift for sophistication and wit, in Love, B, Bruce Wood created a romantic frolic with the usual rejections, flirts, switching of partners and new alliances. Jasmine C. Black, Alyssa Harrington and Nycole Ray (Dallas Black Dance Theatre) frolic with Albert Drake and Harry Feril (Bruce Wood Dance Project). But in “You Made Me Love You,” set to the lyrics of Nat King Cole, Mr. Wood outdid himself: Mr. Drake leaps, bobs, stumbles, falls splat to the ground, bounces up, slides and falls again, unhinged with unrequited love. It is a comic masterpiece.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.
» Read our feature (with slideshow) on Christopher Vo working with the DBDT dancers here
» Read our feature on Ann Williams here
» Photos copyright Sharen Bradford of The Dancing Image. To see a slideshow from Spring Celebration, click on the slideshow icon in the floating menu on the bottom left of your screen