Dallas — Under newly appointed Artistic Director Melissa M. Young, Dallas Black Dance Theatre continues to astound audiences with their athleticism, versatility, and rich content. Their annual Director’s Choice combined tried and true repertoire with a world premiere and a DBDT premiere. In contrast to previous years, this Director’s Choice only contained performances from DBDT, and did not feature other guest companies—a successful move on their end.
Although the program did not feature dancers from other local companies, there was no shortage of guest choreographers—the first being Bruce Woods Dance’s Artistic Director Joy Bollinger. In the world premiere of This Time, dancers in simple white tops and black shorts swayed gently in a clump at the center of the stage. Gradually, their rocking motions escalated into reaching arms and bigger swings as duets and solos broke away from the clump. Partnered with ethereal music from Olafur Arnalds, a cheerful, light atmosphere emerged. DBDT’s usual powerhouse aesthetic took a backseat to a softer, more authentic appearance. The company plunged into this new movement quality with ease—floating in weightless lifts, waving their arms above their heads, and lightly gliding from one formation to the next. The second movement revealed a breathtaking duet between Lailah Duke and Xaiver Mack. Taking a detour from the happy tone of the beginning, the couple emitted a heart-wrenching mood from their tender forehead touches and desperate wrist pulls. At first appearing to share leading/following roles, they managed to bend and fall in sync with one another. However, as the duet progressed, the repetitive phrases became wilder as Mack struggled to keep up with an explosive Duke—marking a shift in their relationship. These subtleties give This Time vulnerability and honesty throughout the rich choreographic phrases.
A menacing straight line of dancers in bold, red shorts and sports bras signaled the opening of Lily Cabatu Weiss’ Thrown for a Loop. Individually, the movers stepped forward into deep lunges and rapid, compact turns. Fisted hands and springy leaps paired with sharp, slicing arms and jabbing feet provoked a confrontational, battle-like attitude. In a commanding unison section, a “fingers crossed” motif permeated the tough, combative choreography. The whirlwind work ended a bit too abruptly as dancers froze their bodies in X shapes—leaving me yearning for more resolution.
Despite being a decade older than the other pieces in DBDT’s program, Absolute Rule carried the same fervor and intensity (if not more) as its newer companions. Originally choreographed by Elisa Monte and David Brown, this duet captured a dramatic and captivating relationship between Sierra Noelle Jones and Claude Alexander III. Highlighting both dancers’ athleticism and technical abilities, the duet drew viewers’ attention with stretched extensions, stressful falls and catches, and intriguing spatial choices. Jones and Alexander fought to manipulate their partner—thrusting their hips aggressively, skittering across the floor, yanking arms and legs. The incredible focus of the couple along with their constant push to the extreme led to a tense and satisfyingly invasive work.
Bodies as Site of Faith and Protest began with the curtain still closed, and voices wafting from the wings of the theater. Thirteen dancers in 1960s attire strolled onto the front panel of the stage singing “We Shall Overcome,” in reference to Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech. The performers vocalized the song with conviction as they held hands—united. Once the curtains opened, they released hands and jumped in to a forceful unison phrase full of grasping hands, spastic turns, and cutting arms. As they stepped solemnly into a clump, Dr. King’s voice echoed throughout the theater and frenzied duets deserted the comparably somber group. This calculated, understated clump provided a stark contrast to the chaotic flails, leaps, and falls of those who broke away. Mirroring the climactic score by Greg Smith, the piece exploded into an angry flurry of turns and shaking arms before returning to the peaceful melody of the introduction. In the second DBDT premiere of the evening, Tommie-Waheed Evans’ piece was both compelling and increasingly relevant.