Dallas — Dallas Black Dance Theatre opened their 38th season with the all-new Director’s Choice performance series presented at their home space, the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. Since April Berry took the helm as Artistic Director in September, the honor of selecting works for this production went to DBDT’s founder Ann Williams. The program had a slight feeling of déjà vu, since three of the four works all appeared in their 35th season closer, in about the same order. Casting changes, however, and a different flow to the concert shone some new light the longtime audience favorites.
The opening work, Gene Hill Sagan’s Etudes and Elegy, puzzled yet grabbed the attention. Before the lights faded in, the rolling notes of Chopin provided a sweet, serene feeling, which sharply contrasted with the image that appeared next. A somewhat contorted Jasmine Black laid on the floor in a fourth position towards the upstage with her back arched so that her face gazed at the audience upside down. Outspread fingers moved ever so slightly, giving the beautiful image a bit of an unsettling feeling. Richard Freeman towers over and garners attention simply by raising his arm.
With ladies donning black dresses and men in black pants, the work transitioned into more powerful movement, utilizing circular floor patterns and forced arch bourées. Quartet work evoked images from Horton technique, and all dancers exhibited lovely diagonal shapes and mesmerizing articulation throughout the whole body. Sean Smith and Keon Nickie executed impressive partnering with daring leaps and catches.
Black and Freeman became the focus yet again in Elisa Monte’s Absolute Rule, with music by Peter Yagar. (Michelle Hebert and Claude Alexander III perform the duet in the Friday and Saturday evening shows.) Halfway drawn curtains and sharp lighting patterns deliver an angular feel to a piece that contains very little of the soft fluidity from the last. The two constantly switched roles; one was dominant, while the other reluctantly fell into tense submission. Black displayed a different kind of femininity in her struggle and intrigued with her quiet fierceness. Even though the piece has been performed before, shapes and partnering still afforded surprises.
Former company member and Point Park University faculty member Garfield Lemonius contributed the only premiere of the evening, Memoirs. The work recounted aspects of an individual’s life (pain, joy, passion, calm) but seemed to focus on joy and passion. Opening choreography contained nice variety, but timing was slightly off at the Saturday matinee, although it seemed to be on purpose. Limbs stretched out seemingly beyond the dancers’ limits, and exciting maneuvers sent the performers flying across the stage.
Red dresses that opened from the waist down provided even more movement on stage. The skirts mirrored the swirling of the dancers, and the swishing fabric added a vivid dimension to the piece. Variations in performance qualities would seem to impede enjoyment of the dance, but instead highlighted the individuality of the dancers even more. Kimara Wood’s brilliant smile lit up the stage, and Freeman’s facial expressions served up an infectious joy. The whirlwind choreography felt like it needed a little more time to refine, so let’s hope it shows up in a future performance.
Alvin Ailey’s jazzy Escapades closed out the evening. Set to music by Max Roach featuring vocals by Abbey Lincoln, it’s a typical audience pleaser, even if on the long side. Jubilant and bright with plenty of sass and sway, the jazzy choreography gave the dancers plenty of chances to demonstrate their powerful moves. Katricia Eaglin and Freeman executed a delightfully playful adagio as the lead couple, but the other dancers had their time in the spotlight with alternating duets.
Audiences have come to expect the “relentless excellence” proclaimed in the company’s new motto. With new faces in the company and a new artistic director, it’ll be exciting to see the direction of the company as they close out their fourth decade.