Dallas — Win some, lose some: Dallas Black Dance Theatre let loose with five works of various degrees of substance Friday night at the Wyly Theatre, with its first salvo Donald McKayle’s Angelitos Negros.
Beautiful and touching, Angelitos Negros (1972) was given its full weight by a sinuous Omoniyi Obioha, who makes a slow, stately entrance in long white dress edged with red ruffles. Her body is one elongated line, her back arched, her head lifted, and her attitude and movement that of a proud flamenco dancer. She skirts the stage, whipping those ruffles, coming to a halt and then turning in arabesque, every moment delineated. Set to the music of Manuel Alvarez Maciste with piano and vocals by Roberta Flack, sorrow and pride coalesce.
Daniel Catanach’s Surface (2015) did not fare so well. Set in an urban environment, Surface brings six young black men together in a thunderous storm, their faces hidden under hooded coats. But once the hoods and coats are abandoned, it’s clear they come from different strata of society, identified by torn jeans and faded T-shirt while at the other end of the scale, snappy shirt and tie.
The background changes from skyscrapers to subway platforms to grim, graffiti-strewn warehouses while the action is for the most part of three kinds: bent leg leaps, elongated arabesques, and whacka-whacka legs. Their purpose, unknown. We get the one arm holding onto an invisible subway pole, bodies jerking. We get the injured man left to suffer on his own, the tough stance, the massing together, but the rest is vague.
If you did not read the title of Jamal Story’s What to Say? Notes on Echo and Narcissus, you might miss the reference to these mythological characters but you would catch onto Echo and Narcissus’ ever-changing relationship. Wearing white briefs, Narcissus (Claude Alexander III) hangs high above from a large white sheet that covers his body while Echo (Alyssa Harrington) lies below. As he descends, she leaps onto the rope and hangs there suspended, body outstretched. They trade places several times, sometimes swaying on the ropes, but at the end Echo returns to the ground, ignored by Narcissus. Those long, suspended and stretched-out bodies perfectly capture everything that is beautiful about Echo and Narcissus, and everything that is unfulfilled.
A bravura mix of ballet, modern and jazz, Alvin Ailey’s Pas de Duke was created for the long-limbed Judith Jamison and Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1976. Friday night’s program featured Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater guest artists Linda Celeste Sims and Antonio Douthit-Boyd. The long-legged Douthit-Boyd has the advantage of having the better costume—sleek white satin (Sims wears dark pants and jacket)—but Sims has the more interesting choreography. Douthit-Boyd certainly gets plenty of opportunity to strut and ricochet about with split leaps. Sims tippy-toes about in her own version of a sassy strut, hitting Duke Ellington’s accents with sharp-edged movement.
The program ended with another jazzy piece, Bridget L. Moore’s Southern Recollections: For Romare Bearden (2013). It opens and ends on a grid background, with an image of one of the Bearden’s paintings (a jazz scene) in between. A lot goes on in these six sections and some images will linger long: the peacock swagger on women in brilliant hues of rose, teal, blue, green and yellow dresses, feathers in their hair; the wonderful tableau where Keon K. Nickie works his way into the group, slowly picking up clothes from their manikin-like arms and putting on shirt, tie and vest; the eloquent and supple back and shoulders of Obioha at the end of “Conjur Women: Prevalence of a Ritual.” In structure and substance, Southern Recollections had flashes of brilliance and throughout, an edge.
» The program continues with the addition of Jamal Story’s Loss - Remixed and some changes in cast at 2:30 p.m. Sunday
» Read our feature on Jamal Story here
» 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.