Saturday, Jan. 18: Founder’s Showcase
Sometimes a dance is so perfect that it overshadows everything else on the program. Other work pales in comparison. Such was the case Saturday night at McFarlin Auditorium with not one but two works by Lula Washington, founder and artistic director of the Los Angeles-based Lula Washington Dance Theatre. The works were part of Founders Showcase, presented by The 2014 International Association of Blacks in Dance.
Everything gelled in Washington’s “Ancestral Spirit,” a section of the larger work Random Thoughts. There were the jazz riffs of trumpeter Terrence Blanchard. There were the video images of rippling waves on a blue and green sea. There were the dancers, clad in stark white bathing shorts and filmy dress. Finally, there was the movement, slow, deliberate and rich, creating striking images – often with the three dancers scattered about, with their limbs at dramatically different angles: one pitched forward, one spinning, one stretched out. When joined together, they pulled each other in counterweight so that their limbs were stretched to the limit. Often they swirled like the rippling sea as though part of it while the turbulent music created waves of its own.
Just as fascinating was “Except from African Ukumbusho (African Memories),” a section of Washington’s Ghosts of the Middle Passage. Again, everything gelled. There was Papa Wemba’s stirring Congolese rumba music. There was the midnight blue of the background, and—cutting the stage diagonally in two—a long sheet of white fabric that gracefully fluttered and flapped. There was the dancer, Khilea Douglass, in long white dress, layered so that it billowed in the wind. And finally, the movement. Ms. Douglass stands still, pensive, then more agitated, hands twitching. Then she lets go, sweeping the floor in arching turns. At the end, while spinning fiercely, her face has become a study in anger.
Very different in style but nearly as compelling was Robert Battle’s “We,” performed by Tyler Brown and David Freeland from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater II. It was a study in simplicity. In long purple dress, Ms. Brown stands close to Mr. Freeland, and slowly tilts to his side. With her arms forming long curves, she slowly between Mr. Freeland’s similarly curved arms. This movement is repeated. They fan out for a brief time, simply walking or leaning backward, with one easy fall flat to the floor. It ends just as simply: the two walk side by side, inching backward with their arms relaxed. At the last moment, they offer each other their hands.
Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble’s TARA suggested a modern ritual, with Chloe Grant-Abel at the center of a group of youths in everyday clothes and black socks. Cory Neal’s music begins with what sounds like the beating together of sticks. Ten dancers merge in the center and then fan out to connect as couples. They come and go, with Ms. Grant-Abel rushing in between them. At the end, she brings everyone back together.
Compared to the simplicity of “We,” Helen Picket’s “When Love,” performed by Da’Von Wesley Doane and Ashley Nicole Murphy from Dance Theatre of Harlem, was dense and complex, layering Philip Glass’s pulsating music with text and, finally, a plaintive song. Romantic in true neo-classical ballet style, the music and text gave it an edge, and Ms. Murphy in red slip and pointe shoes captured all the little ins and outs of a complex relationship. (On a side note, Dance Theatre of Harlem will appear at Bass Hall in Fort Worth Jan. 26 and at the Irving Arts Center on Jan. 30.)
Ending the program on a dreamy note was Christopher L. Huggins’ When Dawn Comes, performed by Philadanco. Four drowsy women in pink slips slowly wake to swirl about gracefully. The dream-like mood is broken when four men leap into their space. Soon they come together and dance easily as couples. When sleep finally beckons, the men gently lower the sleepy women to the ground. It was a very pretty affair, with the women particularly charming.
» 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. Thanks For Reading