Dallas — In this age of dance sometimes less is more, as the Beckles Dancing Company demonstrated Friday night at the South Dallas Cultural Center with its annual spring show, 20 Years of Madness & Magic. Over the last two decades Artistic Director Loris Anthony Beckles has developed a movement style which focuses on sustained body positions and clean technique over flashy tricks and unnatural flexibility. All 12 pieces on the program, which included six new works, featured basic ballet, modern, jazz and African dance technique, but when you add in Beckles’ signature swooping arms and legs, subtle gesturing and stoic body positions, suddenly these moves appeared new and exciting. Prime examples were Beckles’ Claret Tango (premiere) and Peace-Blues-Song (2014) presented in the first half of the show.
In Claret Tango, one of the best works of the night, longtime company members Tina Mullone and Lela Bell Wesley performed an unconventional tango to music by Astor Piazzolla. Using one another for support, the dancers performed a series of glides in a waltz-like fashion around the space, pausing every so often to shift into a counter balance pose. Simple moves such as a releve in first position or a lunge in fourth were enhanced with swinging arms and deep contractions. A bench enabled the dancers to reach new heights with their movement choices. But what stood out the most was the easy-goingness of the piece. The dancers never rushed, instead they luxuriated in the process of extending an arm or stepping into arabesque. Peace-Blues-Songs with music by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson started on a somber note with the whole company slowly uncurling on the floor. One at a time they rose up to perform a series of lunges and plies made more challenging by subtle weight shifts and alternating arm patterns. The piece picked up momentum when the dancers broke into solos and trios that highlighted their musicality and quick foot work. The constantly changing entrances and exits from the stage added a layer of anticipation to the work. What the dancers need to work on going forward is maintaining the same energy and commitment to the movement throughout the whole piece.
Beckles showed audiences his playful side in his new work Magical to the lounge-type musing of Betty Carter. In this piece Beckles used head bobs, upper body isolations and hip swivels to emphasize the various pulses in the music. Just like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time, the dancers scurried across the floor while executing a series of hand gestures, hip isolations and head bobs in perfect sync with the music. Even though the piece ends somewhat abruptly the continuity of the dance stays with you. In Second Movement, set to music by Maurice Ravel and Herbie Hancock, Beckles showed yet another side of himself with this endearing pas de deux between Momentum Dance Company members Ian Forcher and Gianna Lentzen. Here Beckles blended classic point work and steadfast partnering with gestural nuances to create something relatable and distinctly human. It’s also one of the few works with a satisfying ending.
The second half contained a short, expressive solo by dancer Stacey Lotten entitled Yor (2007) and the well-conceived and purposefully danced group piece, WaterWays (2014). The evening ended on a high note with Du Lahka (1995). Choreographed by company founder Andre R. George, this duet between Layla Brent and Jared Brown was a heady mix of controlled body manipulations and moments of unfiltered vulnerability. Dressed in a skin-toned unitard (Brent) and leggings (Brown) audiences could see every muscles in their arms and backs flex as they pulled away from one another in a counter balance hold. Connection was key as they tested their balance in a number of one-legged extensions and interlocking body shapes, such as when Brent has her legs wrapped around Brown’s front and slowly arched backwards to the audience.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com