Dallas — Dallas Black Dance Theatre II strikes a winning balance with this year’s Spring Fiesta, presented at Dallas City Performance Hall. The works span a wide range of content and emotions, yet the dancers provide a solid continuity to the evening with consistently strong technical execution and compelling performance qualities. Directed by longtime DBDT dancer Nycole Ray, the company’s increasing maturity and artistry is a testament to the organization’s reputation and ability to attract outstanding dancers from around the country.
The bill features three world premieres, the first by award-winning choreographer Sidra Bell. Featuring music composed and performed by her father, Dennis Bell, hymnal:deconstructed displays the vigor and precision of the dancers. The choreography in the first couple of sections tends toward deliberate positioning, showing off the dancers’ lines and maintaining the overall aesthetic of DBDT II and its parent company. Performers maneuver independently of each other at first, with intense focus towards to the audience.
As the music grows more mysterious, they begin to cautiously connect with each other. Moments of stillness offset the fervor of their expansiveness, and when the partnering begins, their shapes shift even more drastically as they move towards a more visceral, earthy quality. Dennis Bell creates a strikingly varied score, with a variety of rhythms and instruments for the dancers to interpret. Overall, the work travels through a satisfying progression of patterns and energies.
The second premiere comes from former DBDT II director Edmond Giles with Country Blues. Music from Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, and Eva Cassidy provide a swinging but light atmosphere and evocative lyrics, which Giles uses for the narrative structure of each section. Ladies don jewel-colored dresses with gold belts and gentlemen keep things casual with jeans and unbuttoned denim shirts atop brightly colored tees. A duet separates with Cline’s “Crazy,” Lailah Duke flails and sasses about the stage to Parton’s “Jolene,” and a trio acts out the sadness of Cassidy’s rendition of “Tennessee Waltz.” The final section contains a lovely bounce to Parton’s “All I Can Do” as the entire ensemble struts and glides across the stage with a decidedly country twang to their movements.
Richard A. Freeman-Carter’s Unsettled Thoughts rounds out the premieres after intermission. Exploring the roles of the heart and mind in the decision-making process, the work is by far the best on the program. The curtain opens on a piece of red fabric stretched across the downstage area, creating a short wall. As a dancer anxiously slithers and slides from stage right to left, a hand occasionally emerges from behind the cloth to manipulate her, then another pair of hands stretch from the wings to pull her offstage. A duet begins upstage of the red and introduces another piece of fabric, this time unwrapping from the waist of one of the dancers as he partners another with breathtaking control.
Thrumming music signals the end of the fabric and a change to earthier, more athletic maneuvers. Dancers scoot across the stage in a deep second plié, while others shift across the floor. Ending unison choreography simply stuns with excellent precision amidst a more reckless Afro-Caribbean vibe.
The Allegro ensemble from Dallas Black Dance Academy performs Claude Alexander III’s Convergent, with mixed results. Amanda Daniels shines with such a passion and exactness, that it’s difficult to take one’s eyes off her. Alexander’s ballet-based choreography combines with an Ailey-style athleticism to create beautiful lines yet challenging sequences. It constantly moves with rarely a quiet moment, and many dancers have yet to develop the finesse required to control the chaos. Still, they show great promise.
Richard Falls, Jr. performs the only solo of the evening, Darryl B. Sneed’s Some Moan for Love, with music by Nina Simone. Choreographically, it’s fairly typical of the DBDT aesthetic, with reaching limbs, turns, and fluid floor work. Falls manages it well, but compared with the other works, it’s a bit on the bland side. It could be that fatigue has set in after the dynamism of Freeman-Carter’s piece before, as he seems reserved and hesitant, not quite fulfilling each movement to its extent.
Romance closes out the evening, with Nicholas Villeneuve’s The Art of Waiting. Set to Spanish guitar and vocals, the dancers examine various aspects of waiting, longing, and pursuing love, using large flowers in their depictions. The work makes use of trends in contemporary modern dance, such as theatricality, more fluid core-based movement, and the use of socks for greater ease in turning and sliding. Like the other works, the first couple of sections start slow and wistful, with a growing intensity and exuberance towards the end, delivering a rousing end to a superb show.
While all the artists deliver impressive performances, Duke stands out above the rest in every piece she dances. Although she’s only in her first season with the company, she exhibits a fire and excellence that make her an invaluable asset to the company. Let’s hope she stays in North Texas.