Dallas — Just when you think you have seen everything in Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) movement arsenal the company comes out with something bigger and bolder. Last season DBDT soared to new heights in Jamal Story’s aerial work What to Say? Sketches of Echo and Narcissus at its Spring Celebration Series. This year the ladies of DBDT are getting down and physical in Margo Sappington’s hard-hitting, jazz funk piece, Step Out of Love, part of the company’s annual Director’s Choice Series, Nov.6-8, at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in the Dallas Arts District.
A Texas native, Sappington began her professional dance career when she joined the Joffrey Ballet at the age of 17 and her choreographic career at the age of 21. In the U.S. her choeography has been used by companies such as Joffrey Ballet (New York/Chicago), Pennsylvania Ballet, Houston Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Carolina Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Ballet Jazz de Montreal. In 1975 Sappington was nominated for a Tony Award for her work on the play Where’s Charley? and in 2005 received a Lifetime Achievement Award for choreography from the Joffrey.
Sappington is most well-known for using popular music on the concert stage, including songs by Prince, William Shatner, Indigo Girls and Carlos Santana. Her opera credits include Live from the San Francisco Opera, La Gioconda, Samson and Delilah and Aida. On Broadway, she was the dance captain in the original Promises, Promises and has choreographed revivals of Pal Joey, Oh! Calcutta! and Where's Charley?
Originally set on Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in 1987, Step Out of Love follows five women who don’t know each other, but are sharing the same story, which in this case is a bad break up. Each dancer’s story is told through various solos that then morph into duets and trios and eventually into a climactic group section. When asked about the structuring of the work Sappington explains, “The piece begins with each woman in her own thoughts, and as the piece progresses they realize that they are sharing an experience, each in her own way, at the same time. By the end of the piece they are all in the same place at the same time, all five of them in step with one another.”
Sappington’s use of classic jazz techniques in the work, including Fosse and Luigi are a welcome reprieve from the typical contemporary moves that are currently dominating the dance industry. Head whips and staccato hand gestures are paired with continuous leg lifts, hip swirls and foot flicks. Sappington repeats many of the same arm gestures, leg kicks and body poses throughout the piece, but she layers them with directional, level and speed changes to keep the movement from feeling redundant. The dancers’ varying emotional triggers also help keep the movement fresh and interesting. “It is important for each woman to internalize her thoughts and then show them through the movement. The movements are designed to help this process for each character.”
For example, Alyssa Harrington showcases her uncertainty about the break-up through a series of soft and hard body shapes and various controlled leg extensions. Michelle Herbert’s anger is palpable in her explosive barrel turns, sudden falls to the ground and aggressive hand gestures, including claps, flicks and jabs. Hana Delong and McKinley Willis (who was standing in for Jasmine White-Killins) let out their frustration with large traveling steps, frantic arms swings and sudden stop action moments. Unlike the others, Kayah Franklin appears to be the one initiating the break up as is evident through her dismissive body language and the sly smirk on her face.
Stephen Forsyth’s rock score by the same name adds more tension to the dance’s already heated tone and draws attention to the many gestural quirks in the choreography. When asked if this was intentional Sappington says, “The movement reflects not just the sentiment of the song, but also the abrasiveness of the music. Stephen used construction tools as part of his instrumentation such as drills and electric saws to give a dense and agitated quality to some of the instruments.”
Sappington says the complex movement sequences and the speed in which they are performed was a challenge for the dancers during the rehearsal process, but she is pleased with how quickly they embodied the movement and their characters. “We had a very short rehearsal period and the women were very focused and used every minute to absorb all the details.” Sappington adds, “Being a small group they know how to dance together and help and encourage each other, which creates a wonderful working atmosphere.”
Audiences can see Sappington’s Step Out of Love along with Alvin Ailey dancer Hope Boykin’s in·ter·pret, Christopher L. Huggins’ Night Run and Talley Beatty’s A Rag, A Bone, and A Hank of Hair at Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Director’s Choice Series, Nov. 6-8, at the Wyly Theatre.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com