There is simple, and there is simple. The best choreographers know how to use simplicity to good effect, layering if with nuance and surprise.
Fort Worth-based Bruce Wood is the expert on the subject, sometimes to humorous effect (think Lovett!), intense drama (Surrender) or pulsating energy (The Only Way Through is Through).
Wednesday night Wood’s newest work, At the Edge of My Life…So Far continued in that vein, as part of "Winter Series" by Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
Edge opens with Nycole Ray in a long taupe dress sitting for a long time in silence. She rises, and to the increasingly intense music of Michael Nyman wraps her arms around her torso. Soon she is leaning over the table and spewing puffs of flour into the air. She slides onto the table, kicking up yet more powder. When she returns to the floor, her face and dress are partly covered with white. Her agitation grows as she paces around the room, one arm thrust down, the other bent at the elbow.
She slides back under the table, sits, and again spews powder. But fury dwindles, and in silence, she stares out into space.
The spewed flour is a surprising touch, but it makes sense as an image of loss of control and deepening despair. What might seem a gimmick comes across as something poetic rather than rational.
If Edge was the best thing on Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s program, it had some competition from Hope Boykin’s Event-ually, Two.
In Event-ually, Katricia Eaglin and Tyrone C. Walker keep their distance, glancing at one another from time to time. When they finally connect, Walker offers his hand tentatively, which Eaglin barely touches, then withdraws it immediately. He shrugs.
And thus it goes, this tug of war between the sexes. She leaps onto his back, he kicks her butt, he pulls her back so she is sitting on his waist.
“Eventually” we know that the couple will unite. That they do, smiling for the first time as they hold hands and walk slowly forward.
Much of the program borrowed heavily on African roots, opening with Baba Chuck Davis’s Simple Prayer, and later with a much more stylized version in Francesca Harper’s Instinct: 11.1
Milton Myers’ Pacing had an African flavor, too—the low gravity pumping of arms, stamping feet and bent-over leaps. But only in the third movement did the work take off, abandoning its African identity for something calm and simple. Rachel McSween, Claude Alexander III and Christopher McKenzie Jr. form a tight band, which closes upon itself and opens again. The men take turns swirling McSween in slow rotation, one leg in arabesque, or else lifting her so that she seems to be ice-skating. Through it all, the three stay close, forever weaving in and out.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre almost always ends the program on a high note, but this time it struck out. Christopher Huggins’s Jazz Course 101 was a dud. That was surprising because everything else Huggins has created for Dallas Black has been terrific, from his outrageous Girl Power to his pulsating Night Runs. Except for the opening, in which Alexander carries Eaglin aloft like a horizontal pole while making exaggerated hip maneuvers, the rest was simply so much showing off. Fouettés(!), split leaps and barrel turns unleashed at a frenetic pace eventually weary the soul.
◊ 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 and Dance Magazine.