Dallas — Last year’s debut performance of Terrance M. Johnson Dance Project’s Lynched (talk about a provocative title) made clear that this was a company to be reckoned with.
Friday night’s program, Choreographic Conversations, lacked the punch of Lynched, but not the emotional honesty. With dancers only a few feet away from the audience at the cozy South Dallas Cultural Center, even the subtlest facial expression registered.
Seven new works by seven choreographers demanded a lot from a company that has grown from eight to 15 dancers, and for the most part they delivered. A few of the dancers are pretty raw, but given a style that suited them, they blended in with the rest.
But if there was a flaw in the program, it was the timing. Just about every dance was introduced by a three-to-five minute video describing the process and purpose. It made what was a very long program even longer.
As for the ballets, they were a mixed bag. The opening work, Kareem B. Goodwin’s For Liberty…, comes across as a sketch with a lot of pulsating action that includes kicks and swings. Dancers come and go but the dynamic doesn’t change.
Much more focused, Yeajean Choi’s comic Hello Stranger brought us straight into the present, with Cami Holman and Tristan Rodney a particular delight as with nimble fingers they type out text messages, their facial expression a riot of emotions. They stand only two feet apart and it is unclear whether their conversation is with each other. Two others join in, and once the four are physically connected, awkward uncertainty reigns.
Dwayne Cook’s poetic K en Q, set to the music of Max Richter and Chopin, flowed with ballet grace, featuring four women in black leotards and black socks and three men in white. Their moment changes in tempo and mood, while their line remains elongated as though their limbs are made of taffy.
There is nothing like a nightclub to give way to uninhibited merriment, and in Keith Clark’s Beautiful, unapologetically, there is no lack of strutting, fanny-wagging and loose movement. To add a zany touch, bright glow-in-the-dark lights illuminate ankles and over-large sunglasses.
Appropriately, after a night on the town, bedtime must follow. In Cami Holman’s Dream, drowsy dancers wake up, stretch, fall asleep again, stumble and grow frantic. Clad in tawny tube fabric, six dancers entangle and cradle each other, their weary eyes cast downward. Fittingly, they end up in a heap.
It turns out that Milton Tatum, a former star with Dallas Black Dance Theatre and its current lighting designer (he also did all the lighting for this show), is also a darn good choreographer. His Extension displays an alternately supple and taut Kourtney Surgent to great advantage. She stretches and slides and rolls, her movement as sinewy as a snake’s.
The program ends on a happy note tinged with a bit of sadness: Michelle N. Gibson brings back the exuberant energy of New Orleans, a reminder at the same time of its hardships. It begins with a black and white video image of a funeral procession, jazz musicians slowly swaying and shuffling along the street. There are more images, and then dancers appear on stage: a minister in white gloves and black suit, and a long slow, procession of grief-saddled parishioners.
Then the mood changes: the video shows a street filled with free-style dancing and as though by magic, the stage is taken over by 15 dancers letting loose in a wild, uninhibited, let’s-live-in-the-moment, take-no-prisoners outburst. Video is a tricky thing: here Ms. Gibson brought New Orleans to life.
» 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