Dallas — DBDT: Encore! goes a little funky this year for their annual spring concert Rising Excellence, yet still manages to stay true to their signature modern aesthetic and exploring its more contemporary side. This three-for-all concert at Moody Performance Hall also includes a guest appearance from Rhythmic Souls Tap Company to complement the range in genres. Under the direction of Nycole Ray, the company as a whole seems newer with many fresh faces on the roster, and they bring a distinct flavor to the organization.
The show offers many intriguing things to unpack and chew on, but let’s start with a few cheers for the guest performers. Their first work of the evening includes violist Mark Landson, director of Open Classical and frequent collaborator with RSTC’s artistic director Katelyn Harris. Landson starts the piece on the apron with his viola playing a gavotte from J.S. Bach’s sixth cello suite, while solo tapper Meghan Way Stinson performs a combination of improvisation and choreography by Harris (this is a change from what’s listed in the program). Madison Gonzalez and Sean Smith later join for an allemande and a gigue.
Their second appearance in Act II brings a sense of nostalgia with their hit revival of the Copasetics chair dance, a Sean Kaminski duet titled Time (with Teylor Hare and Stephanie Yamauchi), and finally, a recreation of “Begin the Beguine” featuring Smith and Stinson. With the original movie clip of Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell from The Broadway melody of 1940 playing on the enormous cyc of the Moody, the two dancers move in almost perfect synchronization with the film. It’s jubilant and mesmerizing.
Encore! introduces itself to the audience with My’kal J. Stromile’s Mirror of the Effigy. A Chopin orchestral work plays before the curtain rises on a most unexpected picture for this world premiere. Cool-toned lights (by Milton T. Tatum, Jr.) dimly illuminate eight dancers sitting on chairs lined in the downstage area. Donning blue dress shirts and black pants, they mouth words with no sound, as if practicing a conversation or preparing for an acting audition. Connections with each other grow into more complex patterns, and silent conversations, even silent screams, return to add a fascinating pedestrian element. Chairs return for different arrangements, making them a vital part of the piece.
Stromile makes wonderful use of the music’s accents and landmarks for intricate, logical phrasing. Dynamic vocabulary is balletic at times, more upbeat in other areas. He mixes up the groupings nicely, with pleasing combinations of duet, trios, and simultaneous solos. Plenty of canons provide exciting pictures, and the piece starts to wind down with repeating motifs, before the closing picture of a single empty chair. Nothing in the work points to a singular interpretation, but rather hints towards ideas of inner dialogue, breaking the mold, making your voice heard, and connecting with each other.
A somewhat similar aesthetic in the second act highlights the in-house choreographic talents of Floyd McLean, Jr., and it’s such a joy to see dance troupes cultivate the choreographic skills of their company members. In Cold, McLean and Terrell Rogers, Jr. perform a duet, maneuvering through extreme shapes which highlights their impressive abilities, especially Rogers’ side extension hold. The work contains a little too much unison choreography and the overall shape of the dance is a bit vague, but McLean shows promise with good use of solo work, phrasing, and excellent vocabulary.
Katarzyna Sharpetowska’s Tidal Intersections displays a different type of fluidity and spatial patterns than the other works. The group finds a lovely balance between the attack of Sharpetowska’s arcing, sweeping movements and ease amidst the whirlwind of skirts. The vocabulary also allows for individual dancer moments to shine through even while remaining cohesive. Taylor Diggs has a softer execution while demonstrating stunning torso articulation, Bianca Melidor delivers fiery intensity, and Kayleigh Eidson moves with striking precision.
The biggest attraction of the evening is a choreographer Dallas has seen a lot more of recently: Rennie Harris. The world premiere of Hate 2 Luv U begins with a depiction of two abusive relationships, where the male is the aggressor. All dancers are dressed in street clothes with some eye-catching colors. Against the pedestrian movement and physical theater, performers maneuver through deconstructed breakdancing movements with timing variances. At one point, when a woman is shoved to the ground, laughter erupts from the wings, as if in a sitcom.
Energy rises for the next section, as an all-female ensemble executes Harris’ signature house choreography, with fast footwork. They’re confident and strong, but as the guys enter and join the party, one has to wonder, “Are we supposed to forget what just happened?” The exuberant dancing continues for a while with sensational results, then the relationships return. This time, the tables turn, and the ladies fight back. The two men fall to the floor with the sound of a gunshot, and as they slither away, audience members cheer and clap. It leaves mixed feelings. Kudos to the women for standing up to their abusers, but the insinuation of extreme violence is unsettling and brings up the ethics of retribution. I’ll let the audience decide on that one.
Varied as the choreographers and pieces may be, the dancers fared quite well with the range, and the aesthetic seems to fit them nicely. The inclusion of guest performers of a different style brings an exciting element, one that hopefully will continue.