Artists at Work

Christopher Huggins and Dallas Black Dance Theatre. Photo: Robert Hart.

Choreographer Christopher Huggins and the Dallas Black Dance Theatre prepare for Alvin Ailey’s Escapades as part of the 2012 Spring Celebration Series.

Dallas — After watching the company rehearse small sections of the piece Friday afternoon, it’s easy to see that Alvin Ailey’s Escapades and Dallas Black Dance Theatre were made for each other.

Originally choreographed by Alvin Ailey for the Aterballeto – Centro Reginale Della Danza of Italy in 1983, Escapades is a suite of four dances depicting a love story though a combination of modern, jazz and ballet techniques.

Huggins and DBDT rehearsing Alvin Ailey’s “Escapades.” Photo: Robert Hart

While many dance companies are proficient in all these styles, DBDT is one of the few that is also skilled in dancing from the soul. This is probably one of the reasons why DBDT is the only professional dance company, other than the Ailey company, to be given the rights to perform all 31 minutes of Escapades. And who better to guide these dancers than former Ailey dancer and DBDT regular guest choreographer Christopher Huggins?

Since his departure from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Huggins has taught and set pieces for several dance companies, high schools and universities, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, The Alvin Ailey School, CASS Tech of Detroit, Howard University, Florida State University, Opus Dance Theatre and Movement Dance Theatre of Kingston, Jamaica.

“I was fortunate enough to be with Ailey in Italy for Escapades‘ birth and I also got to perform it,” Huggins says. “Unfortunately, I haven’t done this dance in more than 20 years. The dance used to be in my body, but now I need my notes and video,” he adds.

The video turned out to be a real asset during the rehearsal process I got to sit in on, especially when it came to fine tuning details such as “are the palms facing up or down?”; “are the hips pushing front or side?”; and “is it a chasse or step, step step?”

“I was fortunate enough to be with Ailey in Italy for Escapades’ birth and I also got to perform it,” Huggins says. Photo: Robert Hart

In the third section of Escapades, Max Roach’s jazz trumpet accompanied four sets of couples as they crisscrossed the room. The dancers’ complementary arm swings, swiveling hips, double attitude jumps, layouts and pirouettes paralleled the accents in the music. It is an upbeat and celebratory section that tested the dancers’ stamina and individual dance styling.

All of Huggins’ critiques were direct and insightful. “Don’t let the music overpower you.” “That accent coming in is strong.” “You really got to push.”

These notes applied as well to the last section that the dancers learned for the first time as I watched them rehearse on Friday. Steps and spatial patterns were handed out quickly so more time could be spent on musicality, which plays a prominent role in the last section with a more sustained trumpet and elongated movement. Huggins also tweaked moments to better showcase the dancers’ strengths. “I can’t change the steps, but I can always make adjustments. I have that liberty,” Huggins says.

Throughout the rehearsal there was a sense of camaraderie among the dancers and Huggins that can only come from a long history together. “I know these guys and they know me,” Huggins says. “We have a strong respect for each other.”

When TJ spoke to Sylvia Waters, Artistic Director of Ailey II, back in February about Ailey’s legacy she said Ailey never felt that dance was a high art. He believed dance came from the people and that it should be given back to the people.

Seeing only a few snippets of Escapades reveals exactly what Ms. Waters was referring to.

Escapades will premiere at DBDT’s 2012 Spring Celebration Series, May 17-20, 2012 at the Wyly Theatre in Dallas. The program also includes Absolute Rule (1994), choreographed by Elisa Monte; Forces and Prize choreographed by Jamel Gaines; Etudes & Elegy (1990), choreographed by the late Gene Hill Sagan; and Testosterone (2011), choreographed by DBDT company member Richard A. Freeman, Jr.

This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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About kddance

I am a dance fanatic living in Dallas, TX. Not only do I teach dance but I also love writing about it. My love for dance started at the age of six when my mom signed me up for my first dance class. I have training in ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, modern and acrobatics. In college I minored in dance and majored in journalism. I have had articles published in Dance Spirit, Dance Teacher and the Dance Council of North Texas' DANCE publication. Let me share my stories with you.
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