Give Dallas Black Dance Theatre the chance to let loose, and it's all cylinders firing.
That is not to say that somber or meditative is out of its range but exuberance suits the company better, whether dispatched in David Parsons' Nascimento, Zack Law Ingram's Phoenix, or in the new piece, Rennie Harris' Thinking of You.
The 2012 Winter Series concert opened with Ben Stevenson's (of Texas Ballet Theater) elegiac End of Time, set to Rachmaninoff's Third Movement, Sonata in G Minor, Opus 19. Ideally, the tender and sorrowful mood flows seamlessly from the moment we see Richard A. Freemen, Jr. carrying Diana Herrera onto the stage, sliding her to the floor and then embarking on supported turns and lifts. Some of that mood, however, got lost in awkward transitions.
Reflections in D is a little jewel of a piece, created by Alvin Ailey 50 years ago to the music of Duke Ellington. Ailey captures the introspective and romantic tone of the music, opening with nothing more than a man reaching out into space with one bare arm while contained in a small orbit. Beautifully rendered by Sean J. Smith, even the simplest of moments takes on meaning—that of someone discovering what life has to offer, and basking in the knowledge. It ends the way it begins, in repose.
How different then was Phoenix, a work featuring 13 dancers set to the pulsating music of Philip Glass. What is simple and contained in Reflections disappears altogether in Phoenix, a frantic and intoxicating burst of energy, with none more frantic than the fierce Michelle Zada or explosive than Tyrell V. Rolle. They swarm the stage like angry insects, push and shove, and careen away only to regroup and repeatedly swipe at the air with only an occasional long-held arabesque for contrast. When the Phoenix—Ms. Herrera in tiny gold dress—flies in, the others take a judicious retreat, but that doesn't keep her from attacking, falling back, and going at it again, the image of a dangerous bird fighting for survival.
According to the myth, the Phoenix dies and falls in a heap, but unlike the myth, this one does not rise again.
Intensity takes many guises, and so for high-spirited, saucy fun, Mr. Harris gave the same 13 dancers a chance to strut and preen and show attitude. The title Thinking of You could not be more ironic, since "thinking of me" would be more to the point. This was hip-hop taken to new heights: the fanny-wagging and shoulder rolls executed with exaggerated energy and speed, and with a few balletic quadruple turns thrown in for good measure.
Nothing could say more clearly: only the young need apply.
◊ 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, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.
◊ Photos copyright Sharen Bradford of The Dancing Image, for TheaterJones. Click the Slideshow link below the image box above to see them larger.