Dallas — Anyone not familiar with dance performances might have sworn that Jan. 28 at the Majestic Theatre was a pep rally-cum-reunion-cum-revival. About as much energy emanated from the audience as from the performers.
Hosted by Dallas Black Dance Theatre, the five-day International Conference & Festival of Blacks in Dance brought over 1,000 dancers, choreographers, teachers and artistic directors for classes, workshops, lectures, auditions and performances. The highlight event featured the best (and longest-lasting) black dance companies in America, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Philadanco!
Like many showcases, this one was intermittently thrilling and ponderous, bogged down with works that far exceeded their shelf life. By far the shortest—and most riveting performances—were two solos, Robert Battle’s Takademe and In/Side, both performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s star Samuel Lee Roberts.
Takademe deconstructs the percussive rhythms of Indian Kathak dance with propulsive leaps, fast footwork, and curled and twisted arms. Bare-chested and in red pants, Mr. Roberts plants himself in the center of the stage, twisting and stabbing heels to the floor, before moving rapidly across stage with the movement increasing in complexity and speed.
And then there was In/Side, the second to the last work, ratcheting up the brilliance to a new level. If you were fortunate enough to have seen In/Side last spring at the TITAS Gala, you know what I mean. A tour de force performance if ever there was one, it depicts a desperate-hopeless-trapped in some unknown hell Roberts. Most of the time he’s on the floor, floundering and flopping like a beached whale. When he stands, he barely moves, calm and resigned. Then he gives way to bouts of wild spins, both airborne and flat on the floor. Nina Simone’s “Wild as the Wind” both amplifies his agitation and defies it.
Two companies honored their African influences, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company’s Wawa Aba and Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble’s Mictlan RX.
Wawa Aba with its low-to-the-ground stance, pumping arms and rotating angled arabesques, pulsated with fervent energy.
In the Afro-Mexican inspired Mictlan RX, a complex ritual involving a figure half-hidden in heavy, paneled coat and an ensemble that move in tandem, brandishing donkey jawbones.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s newly-named artistic director Bridget Moore is no stranger to the company, having created a long list of stellar works for it. But it was her own company, BMoore Dance, that took its inspiration from traditional Korean music and dance, blending the two into something graceful and stately.
On the light front, Lula Washington Dance Theatre’s jazzy Open Your Eyes features a sensual duet, a zippy trio and a lot of leaps and lifts, but came across as rather lightweight and over-long. The music of Earth, Wind and Fire gave the dance a pop feel.
Much more focused was Force of Nature Dance Theatre Company’s E.R., which used as its departure point a hospital emergency room. There, in white pants and gown, Courtney Lewis slides a gurney around the room, upends it, tilts it, lies underneath and knocks it to one side, representing by turn caregiver, patient and healer.
By far the most balletic was Philadenco!’s Super 8, full of easy spins and luxurious arabesques, executed with perfect uniformity.
The program ended with Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s ambitious if somewhat pretentious Tribute, commissioned last fall to honor the company’s 40th anniversary. A video screen throws out words like “Tribute,” “Heritage” and “Legacy,” as dancers recite their meaning in honoring 100 years of black dance masters. The movement is loose and easy, and the recorded words powerful.
Near the end, all 12 dancers fall to the ground one by one only to rise again and spin and glide, heads back and arms lifted. That fall and rise is a companion metaphor for the words of Donald McKayle: “(dance) is like a tree with a trunk and branches and twigs—and we are all part of this family tree which we call modern dance.”
» 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.