Dallas — Beckles Dancing Company’s mission is to reach out to young dancers within the community by exposing them to different disciplines of dance and performance opportunities.
On Friday night at the South Dallas Cultural Center, the company presented Tu-Tu.
Artistic director and choreographer Loris Anthony Beckles invited five guest artists to the program, but the true stars of the night were the young company members.
Ten dancers ranging from middle school to high school students displayed their love for dance with every entrance and step taken. Instead of undermining their youth and experience by choreographing small, syncopated movements, Beckles and his artistic assistant Lela Bell Wesley challenged the dancers. The choreography was thoughtful and intricate. In return the dancers took pride in their craft.
Martha Graham’s modern technique was heavily sprinkled throughout the opening piece, Magical. The program began with the smooth vocals of jazz singer Betty Carter and four dancers standing at attention. Their eyes shifted back and forth. Nervously they attempted to look past audience members sitting in the intimate black box theater. A few musical counts went by and right on cue four pairs of feet opened into a wide second position. Slowly they sank into plié then quickly they drew in their feet back into parallel facing the stage wings. Their backs hunched in a contraction and arms turned in, arched overhead. The nervous spell was broken and the dancers owned their space.
The jaunty, feel-good spell and coherence of Magical was interrupted by another idea. Guest dancer Tristan Rodney-Stewart lay shriveled up in a rectangular pool of light. The lyrics, “does a rose loose color in the rain?” are repeated over a steady bass and Stewart rises to reveal his pink unitard and sheer purple frock. Although his legs wobbled, Stewart kept his confident and steady composure.
Suite Beauty, Part I &II started out in post-modern fashion- slow and deliberate lunges incorporated with an intense gaze. Suddenly the dancer breaks out into a petite allegro and the audience is jerked into the realm of ballet, only to go back to watching post-modern choreography. Flashes of jazz hands, casual isolations of the shoulder, and somersaults are seen. On occasion Stewart sticks out his tongue. Too many ideas were muddled without a flowing transition. The audience was perplexed by the contrast in Beckles’s choreography.
The 10 company members returned to the stage in bright colored printed tops depicting children playing, without the frenzy playing entails. Each cluster of dancers started out with a familiar game, patty-cake or ring-around-the-rosie, which evolved into the dancers weaving in and out of complicated floor patterns.
The music changed and so did the children’s mentality. They were older now, fixated by their cellphones. The piece shifted from dance sequences to interpretive dance as a poem was recited called, “My Mother Raised Me.” The poem’s focus was told from the main character’s perspective on self-worth and not letting the world define her beauty. While the piece was beautiful and life affirming, the dialogue detracted from the movement. Dancing is powerful because it transcends words and expresses ideas when words aren’t enough. When dialogue is inserted into dance, sometimes the choreographer assumes that the audience cannot interpret the meaning of the piece without assistance. The effect of the piece would have been the same without the poem.
Following intermission there was a stark change in tone. A dancer from the Danielle Georgiou Dance Group entered slowly with a veil of gauzy material stretched over her face and pulled taunt from off stage. A tall, male dancer was further upstage mechanically rolling his head in different directions and lithely distorting his upper body. As the choreography unfolded the company of five dancers painted a picture of an apocalyptic, ominous world. Enjoyable as this work, It’s Best to Consult Others Before Taking Unusual Actions, was, those in the audience didn't have enough time to process the contrasting piece before the program returned to the joyful rhythm of jazz music.
Part of Beckles’ desire for his dancers is for them to experience sharing the stage with veteran dancers. Although the guest artists’ pieces were interesting in their own right, the placement of their performances seemed out of place. Layla Brent’s Sleeping Beauty excerpt and Alejandro Perez’s display of acrobatics were plopped in the middle of the show’s theme, which was a disservice to the performers. Even the thought-provoking piece by the Danielle Georgiou Dance Group felt like it was performed at the wrong venue. The audience appreciated the variety of Tu-Tu, but it felt like an odd assemblage of works.