Dallas — The Dallas Black Dance Theatre kept it close to home yet expanded their borders as they finished the 39th season with Spring Celebration, presented at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas. A typical DBDT concert features works from a variety of choreographers, but audiences can usually expect at least one company member piece, one or more from an outside artist, and the rest from well-established or historically significant choreographers (such as Alvin Ailey or Talley Beatty).
For this show, the company followed that same pattern with a uniquely Metroplex twist. All choreographers are (or were) based in North Texas. In-house creations come from Richard A. Freeman-Carter and Nycole Ray, but the “outside” artist really is no outsider at all. Although she’s a visiting professor at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, South Korea, frequent DBDT choreographer Bridget L. Moore has her roots in Dallas, as a Booker T. alumna and former faculty member. She brought a quartet of dancers from Seoul for their first U.S. trip. Rounding out the bill was RED from the late Bruce Wood, one of DFW’s most famous choreographers. It’s a premiere for the group, and DBDT is the first company outside Wood’s company to perform it.
Freeman-Carter brought back the haunting Oremus (Latin for “let us pray”), set to music by Kerry Muzzey and Clint Mansell. While DBDT dancers are known for their explosiveness and expansive quality, they began the work with something even more powerful—subtlety. Small leans, direct gestures, and pointed looks perfectly timed with simple piano chords evoked more emotion than the gorgeous grand rond de jambes and attitude turns that followed. Anger, frustration, judgment, and hopelessness quietly cried out from the upstage tables before giving way to more complex segments.
Men’s and women’s sections conjured some humor and displayed strong shapes, repeating several motifs in various capacities and finishing with a gesture of pleading or searching. The ending section brought a sense of resolution, as swelling orchestral music inspired larger, more exuberant unison work. Tight and precise, the ensemble moved as a unified organism before ending back at the table, free of accusatory glances and silent despair, released from their sorrows. What a roller coaster ride for the heart!
Three graduate students and one undergrad from Seoul lit up the stage with Moore’s world premiere of Bound. High diagonal lighting created a dramatic picture as two ladies started the work with a series of carving and spoking arm movements. Whipping maneuvers abruptly stopped as the dancers’ fingers grabbed an invisible string, pulling it taught. This motif, as well as the sudden transition from urgent to bound movement (hence the title), repeats several times in this rather long work.
Other gestures resembled locking and waacking movements from the hip-hop world, but a strong sense of modern and contemporary vocabulary pervaded. They performed almost everything in parallel, including pitched battements and turns and parallel attitudes in second. Floor work abounded, as the dancers threw themselves up in the air before sliding along the floor. Pulsing bass beats with hints of Eastern-style vocals provided the impetus for the energy, but sadly the dancers’ vigor waned. The continuous movement and long runtime wore on the performers and the audience, but the group still delivered an impressive showing for their first Dallas appearance.
With Above & Below (another world premiere), Ray experimented with those directives against silky white fabric. Nine dancers with their bare backs to the audience walked slowly forward and back atop the fabric, as the lights faded in. The atmospheric electronic and string sounds of Johann Johannsson gave the work a similar contemplative vibe to that of Freeman-Carter’s, and at times contains similar vocabulary to Oremus. Sensual partnering, luscious floor work, and beautifully articulated limbs and torsos created a softer touch. The silk lifted on each side to allow dancers room for movement underneath, and while the fluttering fabric enhances the visual at times, it didn’t quite work overall.
First, it greatly cut off sight lines, so unless one was sitting in the center, the full effect was lost and dancers disappeared from view. Second, the fly rate was choppy and fabric heights were often uneven, distracting from the exquisite movement. It’s an intriguing and potentially stunning concept, but it needed more time to work out the technical kinks.
The buzz leading up to the concert focused on all things Red, as in Wood’s 2001 high-energy and more varied work last seen in his company’s June 2013 show. Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto II and III matched the tone of each section, and although it’s a Wood work, the performers made the choreography their own, as they melded his movement style with their own qualities. It took a bit, however, for the confidence to kick in. The first, slower section felt overly cautious and hesitant. For the second half, though, they struck the opening ripple line with gusto and ended strong.
Next season, the company turns 40. Wonder what they’ll pull out for that significant birthday?