Dallas — Almost as if in preparation for The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s highly anticipated return to Dallas in just a few weeks, Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) Cultural Awareness program showcased three works from Ailey artists. Founded in the asymmetrical linear shapes from traditional Horton technique and brought to life through emotionally charged themes, Ailey’s legacy shaped the entire evening. While each of the dances demonstrated similar movement vocabularies, the visual outcomes manifested in three, strikingly varied ways.
You can never go wrong opening a show with an Alvin Ailey piece. The only problem with Claude Alexander III’s Reflections in D was that it ended far too quickly. Ailey’s 1962 solo (set to a live pianist’s rendition of Duke Ellington) has aged like most of his other work — gracefully and full of power. Alexander’s statuesque balances and breathy transitions inspired a reverent awe for the timeless choreography. His yearning expression and rooted tilts not only displayed his technical expertise, but also revealed his maturity as a mover.
In the only world premiere of the night, ON. Toward. Press. took audience members on a journey of struggle and perseverance — embracing DBDT’s theatrical strengths in performing emotion. Bessie award winner and current Ailey company member Hope Boykin featured both moving choreography and thought-provoking spoken word in this multi-sectioned work. Amongst a sea of dancers sliding and writhing on the floor, Lailah LaRose stood apart from the rest of the cast — running in tired patterns with passive hand gestures. “Just run,” Boykin’s soothing voice echoed from above as her words gradually propelled more movers into increasingly velvety arm stretches and spins.
Suddenly the beat dropped — throwing them into chaotic chases. With aggressive bent elbows and manipulative partner work, the choreography symbolized a journey through the struggle and a constant pull towards the finish line, that was enhanced by the driving pulse of the music.
Fighting her way out of the clump of dancers, LaRose stripped off the excess sleeves and drapes of her costume to complete her transformation — frantically wiggling her chest before exploding into maddening flails. Her stamina was unreal — fully committing herself to every sharp hold and desperate undulation.
Well-developed and emotionally engaging, Boykin’s ON. Toward. Press fits perfectly within the company’s current repertory while also offering opportunities for growth.
DBDT loves to send audiences off dancing, and this performance was no exception. Beams from Heaven used electric choreography to physically explore gospel songs from some of the greats — Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, and Marvin Gaye to name a few. Choreographer Christopher L. Huggins surely drew from his past experience in the Ailey company when creating this work, where Horton technique merged with upbeat religious hymns.
In the most exciting section, a trio of men alternated between stiff shapes and gooey pelvic rocks. “Come Ye’s” contrasting dynamics brought a welcome silkiness to the high energy momentum found in the majority of the work.
Originally premiered in 2010, Beams of Heaven exposed the evolvement of the company while also celebrating the past — featuring former DBDT dancer and current DBDT: Encore! Artistic Director Nycole Ray. Fun, uplifted, and joyous, this dance captured the aesthetic and thematic values of DBDT.