December is often a single-toned time for dance fans, as the choices are generally limited to yet more performances of ‘The Nutcracker’. This week however, there’s a little spice injected into Dallas dance scene with Dallas Black Dance Theater’s Winter Series performances at the Wyly December 8th through the 12th.
Don’t let the title fool you, Dallas Black Dance’s “Winter Series” was hot. As I sat in my lime green Wyly seat, I kept thinking, “I have to get to the gym in the morning.” Seeing these dancers dressed in nothing more then a few square inches of fabric is likely to generate an urge in just about anyone, to lay down and pump out a few abdominal crunches. All night, the tight, muscular, finely tuned dancers bodies availed themselves in continuous, full-bodied movement. There was no middle ground for the dancers in four out of six pieces; “Simple Prayer” “At The Edge Of My Life…So Far” “Pacing” and “Jazz Course 101.” Each movement was given full play emphasizing community, inner conflict, love and pleasure.
The show opened with “Simple Prayer” choreographed by Baba Chuck Davis (who we featured/interviewed a few months ago for “Dance Africa”). A single male figure standing center stage in a circle of white light, four shirtless males approaching him from each corner with undulating articulation rippling through their spine as they stomp a heavy foot down perfectly in sync with the music. The central figure is dressed in a floor length white shirt contrasting the four men in tasseled, bright colored traditional African skirts. They are joined by two additional groups of dancers. The final group, dressed in muted browns, executes a series of controlled leg extensions and soaring arabesque turns.
A 2010 premier, “At The Edge Of My Life…So Far” choreographed by local favorite, Bruce Wood, and danced by the awe-inspiring Nycole Ray, evoked images of a woman overwhelmed, conflicted dancing that carefully blended of abandon and control. A wooden table covered in white powder, a chair, and a female dancer in a red dress made for quite a dramatic aesthetic experience. The powder slips from her hands as she carves the space around her face and neck. She moves with a rigid, bounded flow, breaking through sharp angular gestures that send her long arms in awkward progression through space. The music by Michael Nyman has a constant heartbeat a pulse beneath the heavy strings that are working their way through a constantly evolving crescendo as Ray sweeps her long leg over the table and steps to the side, trying to break the tremor in her left hand. Suddenly the music stops, two beams of light from above focus on the table. She sits in the silence, aggressively pushes one last pile of dust from the table sending it souring into the light as she gently places her hand over her heart. Blackout! It was brilliant.
“Pacing” a work choreographed in 1989 by Milton Myers, gave us a glimpse of the DBDT’s mastery of rhythm and musicality combined with technical ability and plenty of memorable moments. Myers employs extensive use of cannons, asymmetrical design, progressive level changes – creating a dynamic setting while still maintaining the vocabulary that owes its origins to choreographer Lester Horton – that fusion of jazz, modern and Native American styles. Rachel McSween, Claude Alexander, III, and Christopher McKenzie, Jr performed an intricate trio worthy of mention. The dance ends in a vibrant, rotating communal circle.
“Jazz Course 101,” was a sexy, slinky classic jazz ensemble piece complete with red dresses, black tights and whole lot of hip isolations and shoulder shimmies. Choreographer, Christopher Huggins, loaded this piece with every athletic dance “trick” in the book. There were high-flying side split leaps, fast multiple turns in place and across the floor, huge leg extensions and plenty brisk footwork. A perfect coda to end the evening, “Jazz Course 101,” received a standing ovation.