Dallas — Diversity. From the founding of the company, this has been one of the most valued qualities of Dallas Black Dance Theatre. In the case of DBDT: Encore!’s show Rising Excellence last weekend, this was certainly accomplished. Ranging from classical ballet to jazz to modern, the evening consisted of a myriad of styles and chorographic diversity. Together with the Texas Ballet Theater, DBDT: Encore! produced a show that both entertained and enlightened their audience.
Kicking the night off with a world premiere, DBDT: Encore!’s In The Sea of Heaven opened with eight dancers in a shoulder stand with legs bent towards the ceiling. A grayish-blue cascade of fabric hung from the ceiling like a pillar of water towards the back of the stage. The beginning stillness and curious positions evoked a sense of awe and curiosity. As each dancer fell out of their hold one by one, they continued to move by undulating and crawling on the floor. This traveling eventually graduated into rolling, walking, and running across the stage. Ambient sounds permeated the air while the movers trailed pointed fingers on the ground, swiveled their hips in relevé, and repeated a washing motion on the floor. Each dancer seemed entranced in their own slow, continuous movement. Despite physical contact and partnering sections, the individual dancers emitted a feeling of isolation and detachment. Guest choreographer Takehiro Ueyama created this piece as a tribute to the victims of the earthquake turned tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, as well as those impacted by the more recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Both the solemn inspiration and the intricate, personal gestures of the dancers made this twenty-four minute piece feel almost too short.
Moving into a more lighthearted tone, Texas Ballet Theater presented Waltz of the Hours. Performed by the school’s Professional Division, the ballerinas floated around the stage with bright, cheery smiles and light, airy turns. Despite the skilled technique of the dancers, the piece felt somewhat shallow behind the classical pointe work and white tutus.
DBDT: Encore! returned with Chasing Shadows, a duet choreographed by Jennifer Archibald. A couple dressed in black took turns supporting one another, with Aminah Maddox lifting Chad Vaught (4/6/18) and vice versa, creating a sense of equality between the partnership. Towards the middle of the piece, the relationship became more tumultuous as Vaught lurched at Maddox with increasing aggression, and Maddox stepped under, around, and above him as she directed his body parts elsewhere. Maddox’s quiet strength and patient touch brought a vulnerable intimacy to the relationship.
Continuing to touch the emotions of audience members, Christopher L. Huggins’ Tears of War examined the trauma of battle. DBDT: Encore! men wore army costumes and dog tags and the women were clothed in black dresses and veils. Gunshot noises and ominously dramatic music assisted in created an image of mourning and loss as the women knelt beside their fallen men and rocked with sadness. Their grief escalated when the dancers began to frantically jump and turn chaotically. Although slightly theatrical, the piece did resonate with the audience.
Coming back to the stage with the second world premiere of the evening, Texas Ballet Theater School’s Professional Division performed Wavelength. Choreographed by TBT company member Andre Silva, this pointe piece fell on the contemporary side of ballet. A stunning lighting design by Milton T. Tatum, Jr. revealed a blue cyc and glowing green floor. The dancers wore biketards with thick, brushstrokes of green. A refreshing change from their earlier performance, the dancers incorporated bent wrists, upper body contractions, and undulating arms into their traditionally balletic steps. The contrast between their rigid legs and fluid arms was both intriguing and fascinating to watch.
Closing the show with Phoenix, DBDT: Encore! surprised the room with yet another shift in style. Electronic beats boomed overhead as company members entered individually in bright colored cut out unitards with fast, high kicks. Steps were sassy, turns were sharp, and layouts were explosive in this jazzy number. A strong start followed by a bit of wavering confidence left me slightly skeptical of the showy nature of the section. However a startling shift into a Philip Glass score reminded me of the maturity and professionalism with which the company began. Suddenly the club-like vibes melted into a gooey, delicate scene. The relationships amongst the dancers immediately became more invested as mini solos and duets gently crossed the stage. Yet another musical change brought flashing lights for an abrupt jolt out of the dreamy atmosphere from the previous section. Dancers circled together to witness the transformation of Maddox, who’s change into a shinning gold costume and spastic arm swings caused her to stand out from the crowd.
Rising Excellence provided a juicy six-course meal of movement from both DBDT: Encore! and TBT School’s Professional Division. I was impressed with each company’s versatility and dedication to showcasing six different choreographers with wildly different styles.