Lula Washington Dance Theatre took on universal themes of love, war, healing and authenticity in a performance Saturday night in Reading Area Community College’s Miller Center for the Arts as part of the Downtown Performing Arts Series.
The Los Angeles-based company boasts dancers who are as powerful as they are expressive, and who bring theatricality and storytelling ability to dance in which modern, African and Afro-Haitian styles intermesh.
They opened with excerpts from the multiple-movement work “Love Is .,” choreographed by the wonderful Christopher Huggins (a former Alvin Ailey dancer), which explores the many aspects of love, with music by the Icelandic band Sigur Ros and music from the film scores of Chinese director Wong Kar-Wai.
“At First Sight,” an intimate, lyrical pas de deux danced by Micah Moch and Khilea Douglass, embodied the pure joy of discovery and developing trust. Douglass’ breathtaking leap into Moch’s arms, and her holding him aloft, are two indelible images from a beautiful work of art.
“Fleeting” featured a brief, somewhat ironic trio (Bernard Brown, Levi Marsman and Rachel McSween) to a melancholy waltz. “Pain” was a solo by Mary Runkle, a display of raw, hair-tearing, chest-pounding anguish to a cello piece. All six dancers gathered for the finale, “The Same Old Story,” ending with the three couples arguing out loud, leaving Runkle alone onstage in a heap.
Washington democratically featured three of her own works, and three by other choreographers.
Her “For Those Who Live and Die for Us, A Tribute to American Soldiers” used music by Daniel Bernard Roumain and a background film of soldiers in various situations. The entire company, representing the four branches of the military, incorporated movements suggesting combat, training, pain and mutual support into challenging modern dance choreography.
Washington’s “The Healers,” with music by Philip Glass and Malik Sow, used smoke and projected images to create an otherworldly atmosphere, as four male dancers portrayed shamanistic rituals and ecstatic dance.
The show’s finale was her amazing “We Wore the Mask,” with drumming by Marcus L. Miller, and a recitation of the poem “We Wear the Mask” by African-American poet Laurence Dunbar.
Beginning with Douglass wearing a grotesquely smiling mask and bandana, dancing comically, the work showed people gradually dropping the masks and dancing with freedom, consummate skill and pride.
Choreographer Donald McKayle’s beautiful solo “Angelitos Negros,” to the song sung in Spanish by Roberta Flack, was also danced by Douglass, whose long, eloquent arms were reminiscent of Martha Graham dancing “Lamentation.” This was part of McKayle’s “Songs of the Disinherited.”
The company was at its most energetic in “Reign,” a concert hip-hop piece by Rennie Harris of Philadelphia. With nonstop vigorous leaps and cool moves, it was a dance party with attitude.
Contact Susan Pena: firstname.lastname@example.org.