Dallas — In a dark field young men and women pour out a torrent of energy on fiercely pumping arms with heads bent down. They seem to be engaged in some kind of African ritual, but the meaning is vague. That might be the point of Chalabati, a work created by
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar in 2009 and performed Wednesday night at Bob Hope Theatre by Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Dance Ensemble at its Spring Dance Concert. As the recipient of the Meadows Prize, Ms. Zollar spent two weeks in residency at the university and will return in the fall. The founder of New York-based Urban Bush Women, Ms. Zollar derives her ideas from African-American culture and puts emphasis on weight and fluidity.
Set to the pulsating beat of Moroccan music, Chalabati is earthy and grounded, with the movement dynamic with its ever-changing patterns. Small groups form and reform, engage in turbulent confrontations, and end up separating into two lines as a village elder slowly weaves her way in a stately procession.
Whatever conflict existed in Chalabati, it was mild compared to Adam Hougland’s Cold Virtues. Loosely influenced by the French novel Les Liaisons dangéreuses, Cold Virtues seethes with tension. Philip Glass’s haunting and surging Violin Concerto adds fuel. Rather than the opulent surroundings of 18th century aristocracy, the action takes place in a smoky, dim-lit speakeasy, where ceiling fans flicker ominously and the guests wear sepia-toned dress from the 1930s.
Dancers flow in like waves as they bend low, curve their arms and swirl in arching turns, all with the ease of giant birds swooping above a meadow. Into their midst arrives the sinister Lexis Stinger with Christopher Dorsey just behind her, both looking tense as they curl and uncurl their hands. They engage in a complex pas de deux where surrender turns quickly to disdain, much in contrast to the tender pas de deux between Kailey Andriot and Dexter Green. Ms. Stinger and Mr. Dorsey are cool and calculating, and while their aim is to destroy the younger couple, Ms. Stinger ends up flailing on the ground as the others stand by passively.
On a happier note was Bill T. Jones’s D-Man in the Waters (Part 1). Although created in 1989 to honor dancer Demian Aquavella when the danger of AIDS was at a high tide, D-Man in the Waters is much more a celebration of life than a dirge.
Set to the buoyant music of Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings in E-flat major, Op. 20, and against a vaguely watery seascape, nine dancers in combat fatigues race in to form a line that breaks apart and reforms as quickly as ocean waves. One person can always replace another one.
They dive and tumble and roll, catch a friend speeding headlong into his or her path, and sprint off again. The impetuous feel comes in part from the repeated regrouping in a line, but also from the short solos where a dancer rushes forward and then in one big arching movement swirls himself in the opposite direction, the force of his movement again suggesting the creation of a wave.
It ends with the last dancer diving to the floor in one grand slide. He either welcomes death, or slides into a new realm.
» Read our interview with Jawole Willa Jo Zollar here
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.