Review: Dallas Black Dance Theatre DanceAfrica 2015

DanceAfrica at Dallas Black Dance Theatre. Photo: Courtesy of DBDT
DanceAfrica at Dallas Black Dance Theatre. Photo: Courtesy of DBDT

Dallas Black Dance Theatre kicks off its 39th season with an impressive showing of African dance styles and intricate drumming techniques at its annual DanceAfrica performance.

Dallas — Peace! Love! Respect! For Everybody! These values played a pivotal role in the African dances and rituals audiences were invited to be a part of Friday evening at Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) annualDanceAfrica performance at the Dallas City Performance Hall. Special guests Dallas Black Dance Academy Ensembles, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts’ World Dance Ensemble, Giwayen Mata and Bandan Koro African Drum and Dance Ensemble enthralled audiences with their boundless energy, uninhibited movement quality and complex drumming skills.

As is customary, Dr. Charles “Chuck” Davis opened the show with a brief historical synopsis of DanceAfrica before handing it over to DBDT’s Council of Elders. With candles casting the only light a handful of individuals dressed in white stood center stage while Mama Diana Hughley lead them through a hauntingly beautiful chant honoring their ancestors. The venue’s intimate setting and special lighting capabilities that allowed images to be projected around the theater really added to the welcoming message of the event, and this scene in particular, which was not always the case when the festival was held at the more expansive Majestic Theater.

DBDT and DBDT II displayed great stamina and rhythmic skill in Davis’ Homage to the Source Africa. The movement was a fusion of balletic leg extensions and jumps and classic Katherine Dunham technique, which included articulated pelvis, flexible spine and polyrhythmic movements. The pinnacle of the dance was the individual solos where viewers got to see the dancer’s personalities come out through his or her choice movement. Main company member Michelle Herbert was all about the pelvis isolations as she bent over and walked backwards while Alyssa Harrington focused on her upper body with a series of torso pops and head swings. DBDT II dancers Lailah Duke and Christen Ashley Williams garnered applause when they combined chest isolations and hip shakes with fast foot work. The men of both groups also wowed the audience with their speed and athletic prowess throughout the entire number.

Fluctuating energy levels and costume mishaps were a distraction in the collaborative number performed by the Dallas Black Dance Academy Ensembles, but the technical foundation and musical awareness was there and it will be interesting to see how director’s Kayah Franklin, Michelle Herbert and Katricia Eaglin build on these strengths throughout the year.

Booker T.’s World Dance Ensemble surprised the audience with their authentic character portrayal and advanced African dance technique in Moussa Diabate’s Sofa (The Hunting Dance). In the beginning a male hunter scouts out the area, his movements slow and deliberate as he aimed his rifle in different directions. The other hunters entered crawling across the stage, pausing every so often to look down their rifles. As the drums behind them changed tempo the dancers’ movements became more exaggerated. As the piece progressed the dancers kept layering the movement with more hip isolations and upper body undulations till the hunt was over. The dancers’ sharp focus and ease with the props throughout the piece are a testament director Michelle Zada Hall’s time and diligence in rehearsal.

The first half ended with Bandan Koro Drum and Dance Ensemble letting it rip on a family of West African bass drums in Foli Kan 2.0 and showcasing their physical and musical fortitude in Dundunba. In both pieces the ensemble made the quick transitions from drumming to dancing appear effortless.

In the second half Giwayen Mata showed great range with five pieces that combined their exceptional drumming and joyous vocals with boisterous arm gestures and tricky foot stomping sequences. The group’s piece For Baba which honored Chuck Davis stood out with its deliberate and reverent movement choices. A single dancer explored the space through a series of opened-chest releases, shifting body shapes and moments of suspension as she slowly traveled across the stage. At the end she approached Davis who was also on stage and bowed her head while touching her chest and then the ground in a sign of respect and love.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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