Dallas — To close the first season under newly appointed Artistic Director Melissa Young, Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) presented their dynamic and emotionally resonant style of contemporary modern dance to an eager audience. To help them produce their Spring Celebration, guest company Ballet Hispánico added to the diverse collection of choreography, atmosphere, and visual artistry. DBDT showcased athletic movements and powerful messages—consistent with their much-loved aesthetic.
Debuting a new work from guest choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie, members of DBDT stood facing away from the audience in a blunt straight line across the front of the stage. In metallic unitards and biketards, the dancers of Execution of a Sentiment immediately embodied a stiff, rigid quality through erect spines, flexed feet, and robotic shuffling steps. Themes of breaking down and coming apart became apparent in both the spatial patterns and choreography. Deliberate, sustained balances, electrically charged extensions, and forceful leaps highlighted the sheer athleticism of the company. Moultrie allowed the dancers to work with their strengths through his clever mixture of personal style and technically challenging choreography. I applaud his ability to draw from the existing athletic power of the dancers while also sprinkling cameos of his personal movement aesthetic throughout the work. In one of the few moments of stillness, a group of movers sat with heads bowed and hands upturned—capturing a brief moment of softness within a harsh, aggressive atmosphere. I longed for more peaceful snapshots to combat the intensity of Ezio Bosso’s dramatic music. While the dancers maintained this vigorous energy with remarkable determination, the extensive, consistent force of the overall atmosphere offered little variety.
Ballet Hispánico guided viewers through a sultry, playful interpretation of surrealist painter René Margritte’s images in Sombrerísimo. Dancers in tan pedestrian attire pushed mysteriously throughout the space while raising, trading, and throwing matching black bowler hats. Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s seductive choreography featured easy swiveling hips interrupted by huge swinging lifts complete with reaching limbs and inverted extensions. Dim lighting and shadowy figures enhanced the secretive atmosphere—only to be broken by comedic exchanges that resulted in frequent chuckles from the audience. For instance, after a climactic section where one dancer acquired all of the hats and proceeded to turn and jump furiously without disturbing one prop, he collapsed to the floor. A second dancer entered, grabbed his extended ankle, and arched into a mesmerizing back bend—until she suddenly fell out of this visually stunning image to grunt and gasp for air as she attempted to pull her immovable partner offstage. Engaging, dynamically rich, and refreshingly quirky, Sombrerísimo provided some much-needed fluidity and grounding to the high intensity production.
What to Say? Notes on Echo and Narcissus altered the traditional viewing experience by incorporating aerial silks into contemporary modern choreography. With a background in both genres, guest artist Jamal Story explored the complications of male/female relationships in his duet on Hana Delong and Claude Alexander III. A white silk carrying Alexander’s contracted body cascaded from the center of the stage as Delong glided in and out of her splits. Once again, the muscular strength of these dancers was showcased as Alexander pulled his partner into the air with just his feet. The duet hung above the stage in lovely extensions and reaches before unraveling to return Delong to the floor. A contrast in quality emerged as Delong’s tense, distraught balances appeared alongside the gentle swinging of Alexander’s silk cocoon. Although Max Richter’s accompaniment with spoken word overlays from Dinah Washington gave a somewhat overly dramatic tone to the work, the visuals portrayed were stunning. Story managed to blend a linear modern aesthetic with captivating aerial skills quite seamlessly.
The show concluded with DBDT’s own Claude Alexander III’s choreographic debut of A Tender Pardon. The multi-sectioned piece investigated the concept of forgiveness and unconditional love with luscious drags, gentle open palms, and circular scoops. A jazzy saxophone served as the melody, accompanied by other heavenly sounds and voices echoing various prayers. Pleading gestures and sharp contractions nodded to Martha Graham’s aesthetic and bought to mind images of Lamentations. This work was the first of the night to provide authentic, believable relationships amongst the dancers. Heated elbow gestures and combative partnerships revealed the humanity and connection to one another. The desperation, pain, and longing throughout the piece culminated in a triumphant finish as the cast began to smile and leap lightly with the joyous accompaniment.