Dallas — Is this the same Dallas Black Dance Theatre that I have watched for the last 35 years? Yes— and no. The inflated showmanship of old disappeared Friday night in the 2015 Cultural Awareness Series at the Wyly Theatre, giving way to substance. That the program consisted of four very familiar works and only one premiere did not harm its case, because despite familiarity, each of the old ones looked fresh and new, vigorous yet nuanced.
About ten seconds into Dianne McIntyre’s A Boundless Journey, the new Dallas Black Dance Theatre emerged. To American Negro folk music, dancers in earth-colored garments inch their way forward on a diagonal line, bound close like a chain gang, or perhaps just like workers in a dusty field. They fan out in different directions, regroup, and—in exhaustion—collapse into a heap.
Talley Beatty’s Mourner’s Bench makes use of the same slow, sustained use of strength. Whether sitting, standing, or lying on the bench, Claude Alexander III extends his limbs so that they seem as taut as the wires of a pulley, a gesture of resolve more than resignation. Giving the work yet more weight were the powerful voices of six members from Southwestern Christian College Choral Ensemble from Terrell.
Alvin Ailey’s Reflections in D, set to Duke Ellington’s work of the same title, offered yet another chance for displays of slow, sustained strength. This time, however, Sean J. Smith stands in a pool of golden light, stretching and contracting, and then breaking away from that little orbit to explore a wider world. It is calm and meditative, and another opportunity to capitalize on the tremendous power of the company’s male members.
Instead of a bench, resident choreographer and company member Richard A. Freeman, Jr. offers a very long table in his new work Oremus (Latin for “let us pray”). Twelve dancers sit behind the table and turn their heads in unison. Soon, however, they are exchanging glances, glowering, slapping the table, pushing and shoving. Conflict abounds. In the second section, three women sit behind the table, swaying, tilting their heads, and gesturing to each other while underneath the curtained table, feet and legs dart out. Presumably these limbs belong to the women above, but they can’t be—they are too far away. It has a comic touch, suggesting that one part of the consciousness is not in tune with the other, but it seemed a bit gimmicky.
The men’s section brings a rush of leaps and runs, bodies at a raked angle. All 12 return to the table, and in a sigh of solidarity, reach out their hands and turn their heads again in unison. Friendship has its ups and downs, but in the end, harmony is restored.
The program ended on an exuberant note with Troy Powell’s Lambarena, where the music of Bach mingles with Gabonese, and ballet meets with vaguely African imitations of animal figures.
» 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.