Dallas — With the name change from DBDT II to DBDT: Encore! also comes a new title for the company’s spring show. Although a Spring Fiesta is a great way to peak a successful season, the new Rising Excellence fits the company’s trajectory. In its 17th season and under the direction of Nycole Ray, Encore! (the second company of Dallas Black Dance Theatre) boasts dancers from around the country and enjoys an extensive performance schedule throughout the year.
A world premiere opens the performance, Black Rose by Levi Marsman. String music by Ezio Bosso provides a haunting backdrop as dancers in black lace swirl about, moving between duets and solos. Since Marsman’s background mirrors that of many choreographers in the DBDT organization, vocabulary and staging patterns fit the aesthetic of the dancers quite naturally. Beautiful shapes display their abilities well, and their use of suspense fulfills the feeling of tension and conflict.
The work needs time to simmer, though, on the dancers’ part as well as the choreographer’s. The order of the maneuvers doesn’t always follow a logical pathway, and some sections feel too jam-packed, leaving the dancers little time to fulfill the movement. At times, the choreography goes off the music, just enough to create the type of dissonance that feels out of place, rather than contributing to the overall tension of the piece. The dance has great potential, but timing and spacing issues need a bit of ironing as well.
The Dallas Black Dance Academy Allegro Ensemble, directed by Katricia Eaglin, continues the show with Love Brings Change, a soulful lyrical dance by DBDT member Claude Alexander III, who choreographed on the group for last spring’s show as well. A bit more subdued than usual, ladies in pink, orange, and sky blue dresses trade off solos and maneuver through adagios and smaller group sections. A few standout performers return from last year.
The biggest change of pace from the usual fare comes with Shauna Davis’ Weighted, a premiere for the company featuring a quartet of ladies. Rather than the typical sleek costumes, Davis opts for the more contemporary look of tight shorts and a loose top with an open back. Eerie green lighting matches the opening electronic sounds, signaling a different vibe. Rather than the controlled displays of technique that the first two pieces embodied, this one challenges the dancers’ physicality with more flailing movements that lack a particular shape except when the phrase ends with an extended leg. Robotic at times, it tends more towards contemporary jazz with a hip-hop influence, ending quite abruptly.
The concert moves back to a place of safety with Ray’s Love Songs. Like many other DBDT dances that include blues-style love songs, the lyrics dictate much of the narrative and dancers wear a dressy-pedestrian costume. Overall, it’s not very virtuosic and relies of the dancers’ acting skills and subtlety in execution, with most of the sections moving along the same hushed wavelength. The ending section brings a bit more sunshine and pep.
Regardless of that last section and the piece before intermission, the energy of the concert at this point still falls lower than usual, like there’s a sense of hesitancy. Where is the lack of restraint, the raw power that I saw from them last year?
They were obviously saving the kilowatts for the last piece, Christopher L. Huggins’ Chaos. Allegro and Encore! performers share the stage for an explosive work that delivers the intensity and drive the organization is famous for. A thrumming Karl Jenkins choral composition heighten by a brilliant red backdrop and dancers marching around in black wakes up the audience, who shout their audible approval throughout the dance.
Tightly executed unison segments dissolve into turmoil as the dancers run frantically around while screaming. Vocabulary contains a delectable combination of dynamics and shapes, some with complex transitions while others favor a needed simplicity. At the end, a dancer in white with billowing fabric calms the chaos, and the audience is on their feet before the lights completely fade.
That recognizable vigor provided a much-needed boost to the performance, but the same sense of risk could’ve permeated more of the concert.