Dallas — Friday night, the walls of Moody Performance Hall vibrated with electric energy. Deep, pulsing drumbeats echoed through the theater; spilling out into the lobby alongside roars of applause and shrieks of excitement. The culprit? Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s 13th annual DanceAfrica. With audience members absorbed from start to finish, to say this explosive event was a success would be an understatement. The late Baba Chuck Davis would be proud. As the original founder and organizer of the weekend-long celebration of African-American culture, his absence was honored through a captivating evening of community, togetherness, and love.
Baba Leo Hassan and newly appointed DBDT Artistic Director Melissa M. Young opened the night with statements of “peace, love, and respect for everybody,” and welcomed patrons to this new institution of family and community. Audience members were invited to clap, stomp, and yell along with the performers to display appreciation. In addition to a celebration of culture, the performance also reminded viewers to honor the ancestors that came before in Memorial. The Council of Elders in crisp, white garments grooved across the stage before members of DBDT, DBDT: Encore!, Junior Performing Ensemble, and Senior Performing Ensemble continued the parade. Switching groups and formations, the dancers created a full stage brimming with uplifted arms and whirling circles.
Popping with color, the Allegro Performing Ensemble clung close to the ground as they entered the space with prayer hands swimming in curved pathways. Shuffling their feet in quick, sharp steps, the dancers in purple, yellow, and green costumes incorporated hard-hitting contractions and flexed wrists into their grounded traveling. A shift from the softer tones of Memorial, Kou Kou introduced a high-energy element that would continue throughout the night.
Walking in from the audience, eight men in bold-colored pants began Celebrating UMOJA: The Legacy Continues with an impressive collection of acrobatic tricks, flips, and leaps. Their athletic display paired with fluid upper body undulations created a luscious contrast between vigorous portrayals of leapfrog and sultry rolls. After this exhilarating opening, the women of DBDT and DBDT: Encore! joined their male counterparts by quickly stomping forward on the diagonal. Adding to this high-caliber atmosphere, the ladies spun with intricate, articulate arm patterns that included claps, bent elbows, and body percussion. One highlight of their section occurred when the dancers formed a horizontal line and extended one leg to the ceiling while, one by one, the women left the line, bounced under the train of legs, and reunited at the back of the line. Themes of ducking under and around continued throughout the piece as the men and women of the two companies combined for a rousing unison finale.
The second half of the show featured guest artists Step Afrika! of Washington, D.C. Focused on performing, preserving, and sharing the dance form of stepping, the company related the African-American history of the art through verbal, auditory, and visual representations. Without skipping a beat, Tribute examined the history of stepping in various fraternities and sororities through complicated rhythms, body percussion, and athletic floor work. The animated expressions of the dancers increased the intensity of their sounds, stomps, and visually appealing formations. The company then requested audience participation in judging a “step challenge”—fellas versus ladies. The two groups battled for bragging rights through pelvic thrusts, jumps into splits, and most importantly, fierce attitudes and confidence.
The most action-packed work, Ndlamu, took inspiration from the traditional dance of South Africa’s Zulu tribe. Step Afrika! brought this cultural investigation to the next level by including elaborately detailed costumes of fringe, fur, and feathers, explosive kicks, and pelvis swivels. Accompanied by Dallas’ own Bandan Koro musicians, the fast beats and powerful rhythms of the drums boosted the level of fervor from the performers. In a series of mini-solos and duets, the dancers cut through the space with rigid, blade arms and fierce steps. One man even completed three massive toe-touch jumps only to land in his center splits—followed by cries of amazement from the audience.
Solo featured Emmanuel Chacon’s exploration of stepping as an individual performer away from the traditional group setting. Beginning by including viewer participation through a call and response pattern of sounds, he used these rhythms as the basis for his solo movement. Here, a smoother, more intimate mood fell upon the stage while Chacon incorporated floor work and theatrical elements to his syncopated sounds.
Chicago presented a compilation of fiery stomps, arm slices, and kicks for a vivacious finale. Clothed in black vests/ties and sparkled black tanks, the showy ending brought even more pizzazz and to an already thrilling show.