Dallas — Sex! Intrigue! Death! Such were the subjects for Jamal Story’s cheeky take on Greek gods in his The Parts They Left Out. But more about this premiere later as it was the last work of Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Cultural Awareness series Friday night at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Wyly Theatre.
Three of the four works were new, with the odd-one-out opening the program—Francesca Harper’s Instinct: 11.1. The best part of Instinct was the costumes: five men and one woman wearing ochre-colored, split skirts that showed a lot of leg and were tied at one ankle. They emerge one by one in a stylized prowl, elbows extended backward and torso twisted sideways, Egyptian style.
They circle, fan out, leap, run and hold ridiculously long balances in arabesque. Their expressions never change from a glower. The score—loud and insistent—suited this bombastic dance.
Bridget L. Moore’s Unearthed was even more stylized than Instinct but had the virtue of substance. A paean to mothers’ indomitable spirit, it offered repeated tableaus of a figure cradling a dying loved one as others lean over, holding hands. The stage is in semi-darkness, but there is enough light to illuminate the dancers who are clad in black. A touch of red—boutonnieres or else red-trimmed underskirts—suggests not all is lost. Plaintive music by James Horner, Sweet Honey in the Rock and Nina Simone gives way to the jazz of Wynton Marsalis and José James. Sorrow turns to resilience as we watch them march, heads lifted, dropped and lifted again.
The theme of Kirven Douthit-Boyd’s Furtherance was a bit vague, having to do with “overcoming a personal struggle that ends with a celebration of triumph.” In pale blue dress, dancers move as a unit before connecting as couples. The action is free and balletic, with delicate bourrées and leaps that turn into spins. From a contained beginning, the dance ends in a triumphant spirit.
The program ended with a charming The Parts They Left Out. It was way too complex to figure out which gods and minor deities were which and what they were up to, but nevertheless the energy never flagged. Cranking up the surprise elements were aerial maneuvers, taxing dancers who had never before climbed up an 80-foot-long silk.
It begins on a delightful naughty note: standing on one side that separates the stage with a long curtain, Zeus (Kimara Wood) and Hera (Michelle Hebert) begin to disrobe as Echo (Alyssa Harrington) looks on. The moment Hera disappears behind the curtain, the Nymph (McKinley Willis) and the lustful Zeus are slithering into each other’s arms. Zeus winks with wicked delight: the ultimate bad boy.
There are nine more edgy episodes dealing with love, death, intrigue and misconduct. The music, everything from “This Bitter Earth” to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, sets the tone. While the early action starts on earth, it soon moves to the underground, and the colors white and red help identify the two. To further define the earth and underground, dancers either descend from white silk or clamber up on red silk. In the first, Narcissus (Claude Alexander III) descends from white silk and pulls up his lover, Echo. He loves only himself, however, and Echo ends in a heap on the ground, dragged away unceremoniously by Charon (De’Anthony Vaughan).
The underground is the domain of Hades (a menacing Sean J. Smith), and much of the time he reclines on a red swing, surveying the goings-on below. Women let themselves go in a saucy, primping dance to The Staples Singers’ “Respect Yourself” and then there is the fateful attempt of Orpheus (Keon K. Nickie) to climb to freedom using the red silk as his foothold. Eurydice (Hana Delong) follows him, but Orpheus makes the mistake of looking back, there to see Eurydice plummet back to the underworld.
Being a god doesn’t ensure happy endings, anymore than it does for mortals. The Parts They Left Out makes that clear.
» 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.