Dallas Black Dance Theatre presents Nijawwon K. Matthews\'&nbsp;<em>From Within</em>

Review: Director's Choice | Dallas Black Dance Theatre | Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre

Still They Rise

Dallas Black Dance Theatre's 2019 Director's Choice was spiced up by Nijawwon K. Matthews' powerful From Within.

published Sunday, November 10, 2019

Photo: Amitava Sarkar
Dallas Black Dance Theatre presents Nijawwon K. Matthews\' From Within



Dallas — As a staple in the Dallas dance community for 43 seasons, Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) has cultivated a devoted following that brings audiences “back home” for every performance. Despite participating in various repertory shows like Dallas Dances in September, followed by DanceAfrica, their Director’s Choice performance serves as the company’s season opener — welcoming both old and new viewers to settle in for familiar works and a world premiere. With guest choreographers from prestigious companies like the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Ballet Austin, expectations were high — which is one reason the company draws such a faithful audience. While DBDT’s company members performed with the profound technical excellence for which they are known, the overall collection of works lacked the usual spice and excitement of previous productions.

Originally a 2016 DBDT premiere, Kirven Douthit-Boyd’s Furtherance accentuated the dancers’ technical abilities through a consistent use of prolonged balances, far-reaching extensions, and explosive kicks. In blue and purple sheer costumes, the breezy, spirited lifts of the movers contrasted the culturally evocative music choices — using Japanese drums, gong sounds, and Sarvar Sabri’s Indian composition to divide the piece into three sections. Renee Walters and Claude Alexander III’s duet offered the most intriguing choreographic ideas. In addition to traditional partnering lifts and turns, the couple seemed to constantly shift their bodies into puzzle piece shapes as they moved in and out of the floor. However even with these brilliant displays from the dancers, a lack of clarity and cohesiveness in movement ideas ultimately made Furtherance a less-than-memorable opening.

As the Artistic Director of Ballet Austin, Stephen Mill set Bounce on DBDT back in 2017 as a balletic combination of leaps and lifts with a swanky twist. In a literal translation of the title, the dancers began in a clump with grounded synchronized bounces — eventually transitioning into playful spins, tilted kicks, and boxy arms with flexed palms. Leaving behind the buoyant energy of the first movement, a quartet of four men curled into angsty fetal positions as their hands rested softly on their ears. Embracing a softer tone, the dancers held long arm reaches and forlorn drags before three spotlights focused on three individuals. Through unison gestures, the newly formed trio shifted shapes on each beat — which eventually became predictable as it continued just a bit too long.

Saving their newest (and most engaging) work for last, DBDT channeled “emotions that stir the curiosity of the soul” in From Within. Guest artist Nijawwon K. Matthews used clips of Dr. Maya Angelou’s prolific recordings as the backdrop for his dramatic choreography. A captivating solo from the bewitching Lailah Larose developed an urgent companion to Angelou’s iconic utterances from “Still I Rise.” Larose faced away from the audience as she attempted to run, jump, and push out of her spotlight with outstretched arms and flailing limbs. Clothed in all black attire with pockets of sheer, the dim lighting and minimalist visuals added to the weighted opening. In tight formations, the dancers swished from side to side with increasing fluidity — swirling to standing with robotic stops. Shaking claw hands and heavy knee slides added accents of sharpness to the otherwise continuous movements.

As Angelou’s voice once again boomed throughout the theater encouraging her listeners to “be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud,” the cast reappeared with their costumes magically transformed into neon colors — providing an uplifted, triumphant visual. This second half moved out of the somber tone of the first section into celebratory head rolls, hip hits, and shoulder bounces. Facing the back of the stage as the music came to a close, the dancers continued frantic runs in place with short, forceful exhales — offering a surprising, hypnotic close to the night. Thanks For Reading

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Still They Rise
Dallas Black Dance Theatre's 2019 Director's Choice was spiced up by Nijawwon K. Matthews' powerful From Within.
by Emily Sese

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