If there's any doubt that Dallas Black Dance Theatre's Nycole Ray is one of North Texas' most expressive dancers—both with physical movement and in the angles of her face—then her solo in the group's Cultural Awareness Series on Thursday confirmed it.
At the first of this weekend's four performances at the Wyly Theatre at the AT&T Performing Arts Center, Ray performed Donald McKayle's Angelitos Negros (1972), to a Spanish song by Manuel Alvarez Maciste sung by Roberta Flack. In a flowing dress (costume by Beth Thomason) and with hair pulled up, Ray was breathtaking as she performed McKayle's choreography—fusing flamenco and classical ballet—making the most of her long, fluid arms, balletic poise and using the dress as part of the dance; a study in sophistication in dance.
It was the best of four works that DBDT performed, all in their repertoire. Not only because of Ray's mesmerizing skill, but because without an ensemble around her, flaws weren't as obvious.
The first dance, Hope Boykin's In-ter-pret (2005), was a fitting appetizer, whetting the appetite but not providing complete nourishment. As music by Prokofiev plays, the dancers—in sporty, white jumpsuits (costumes by Boykin)—stand in poses that range from nonchalant to sassy. Attitude is in an important component of the work, as ensemble breaks up into duets, trios and other groupings, exhibiting lifts with angular feet and hands.
Timing was occasionally sloppy, but the dancers had fun with the swagger and the concept of being a dance diva. As the work's title suggests, it's open to interpretation. To these eyes it's a comment on contemporary youth's need to break out and become famous—via YouTube or a reality competition show or whatever avenue—without investing the hard work that ultimately makes for a more satisfying career.
Milton Myers' Pacing (1986), using the music of Cameroonian musician Francis Bebey, is laid out in four movements with the dancers in tribal African dance (costumes by Thomason).
In the first, four dancers pair off in dance that combines African rhythms and heavy, undulating torso movement. That idea continues throughout, with action that evokes tribal warfare and death rituals, until the final movement when the entire company shone brightest as a cohesive unit.
After intermission came Dianne McIntyre's The Nina Simone Project (2011), using nine of the legendary singer's songs to chronicle her life story, from growing up in North Carolina churches to finding love as a young woman, through the Civil Rights era and to her international career and living in Barbados and Europe.
The choreography involves a lot of running and playful coupling work. The early portion of her life—the women dancers in 1930s and '40s rural dresses and the men in khakis and button-up shirts (costumes by Thomason)—setting up the mood as light and hopeful. The duet for "Cotton Eyed Joe" was delightful.
But Simone's life wasn't all roses, and the dance gets edgier as it goes through Civil Rights in the '60s. In the most striking section, "Fodder in Her Wings," the dancers wear blindfolds.
Oddly, the piece uses spoken narration (performed by a wooden Melissa M. Young), which detracted from the momentum of the dance. Ultimately, Simone's smoky, moody and soulful vocals and McIntyre's choreography speak volumes more.
◊ Be sure and click on the slideshow icon below the image at the top of this review, and you can see more than 20 images of the performance, taken by Sharen Bradford of The Dancing Image.