Dallas Black Dance Theater: Spring Celebration Series
Wyly Theatre May 29, 2011
So - gelled my hair up, put on my black tee, tuxedo vest, gold lame’ Converse kicks, and my bling accessories and took myself down to the Wyly this afternoon for the closer to Season Number 34 (round of applause for Miss Ann Williams please) of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre – the best ticket in the Arts District IMHO.
Well, they were channeling Miss Nina Simone, the High Priestess of Soul up in there and let-me-tell-you, the house was jumpin’. Now, if you have lived a sheltered life and don’t recognize the name Nina Simone – get you to iTunes post haste. Despite having no special favors in the Store, still you have to listen through 1500 (yep – one thousand, five hundred) or so Nina Simone cuts BEFORE you get to the imitators covering her tunes. You don’t get to be called the High Priestess of Soul with a mail-order degree you know.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Every time I think that the Dallas Black Dance Theater has topped themselves, by golly the next show is even better. AND… should you not be able to survive the Dallas summer without a DBDT fix, guess who is collaborating with the Dallas Theater Center to present The Wiz this July? Yep, and word is that not only are they dancing up a storm, but, gasp – they Sing Too! I can’t wait! My July the 12th ticket is on my kitchen counter and I’m counting the days.
Planted in A110, chin level to dead center stage – my favorite seat – I mirthfully watched the troupe and special guests top themselves again this Sunday afternoon. Let me tell you, we were dancin’ in our seats and clapping right in the middle of numbers – it was That Good.
I love when Miss Williams comes out at the beginning of the show and chats us up a little. Well this afternoon, Melissa Young did the honors instead and had us applauding for Bank of America, if you can believe it. Seriously, especially in these times in Texas, anyone who values the arts enough to support them financially is A-OK in my book.
Here are some highlights from the afternoon.
The show’s opener, “Verses,” starts with a tribute video to Ray and Patsy Nasher created for the North Texas Business for Culture and the Arts. The Nashers share their fantastic collection of art at the Nasher Sculpture Center and at Northpark Shopping Center, which Ray built in the early 60s.
After the video the dancers take the stage in orange on an orange backdrop and the dance begins with single piano note accompaniment.
In one memorable section, Claude Alexander, III and Nycole Ray share some moments dancing from upstage down. Claude appears to be controlling Nycole’s movements in a playful love dance. Later in the same piece, the two dancers repeat the riff, but this time with Claude always a foot or two away from Nycole as if he’s just a memory.
Guest dancer and choreographer Bernard H. Gaddis, founder of the Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater, presented a breathtaking short solo performance called “Gabriel’s Sorrow.” The soundtrack starts with a loud gusty wind and the theater is filled with the dancer/choreographer’s presence. Costumed in a long layered white skirt with a high waist and white rope belt and white leather wristlets, Bernard looks like he’s 10 feet tall and lives on Mount Olympus. But rather than a display of his power, the number is about his prostrate sorrow and it is stirring. The wind gives way to a full orchestral score in the climax and ends again with the whooshing of a stormy wind. All too short a piece.
I need to mention the lighting for “Gabriel’s Sorrow” - blue up lights and yellow spots at 45-degree angles wash the backdrop that’s been narrowed by an upstage curtain. It’s stunning work by lighting designer Sandra Fong.
And next, “Essence,” is a Nycole Ray solo piece. Folding chair, single spot and Nycole in a shift. Now if you’ve ever seen Dallas Black Dance Theatre perform before (at least for the past 13 years anyhow), you know Nycole Ray’s work. She is a phenomenon. When she’s onstage, you can’t stop looking at her. She owns the audience in her solo dances (remember the piece a couple shows ago with baby powder?) and this one is no exception.
Nycole has such stage presence, honest-to-gosh, if she just sat there and looked at us we’d think it was the best thing we’d ever seen. She dances even with her face. I love, love, love to watch her dance and hope she never stops – even though I know she’s equally an uber-talented director, teacher, and choreographer too. I’m a big Nycole fan boy.
The last piece of the set is hot. “Pulse” starts with the four guys in the troupe – every one of them crazy-fun to watch - strutting to a loud heartbeat; thump thump, thump thump, thump thump. Deep male voice-over proclaims “truths” about men: “silence is sexy.” Along come the ladies to dance with the men and through score changes and lighting changes the dance proceeds until at the end – just the thump thump, thump thump, thump thump again and three couples clustered on stage – sequentially completing the number with a single spot on them until it’s two of the male dancers turn, voice-over, and black. It’s a neat ending – a strong polished way to “get out.”
The costumes are great for this number. The abbreviated black costumes have red collar and waistband trim for the guys. At first glance, the ladies are in all black, but no – they have red lining. It’s a cool detail from costume designer Sara Joblin.
Quick intermission – I wanted something to drink but there were not enough baristas on duty to wait on the Long Queue and get back to my seat in time: Wyly? Can we have another server for breaks? Please?
Guest artists from the Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theatre were back after the break with “Sacrifus.” A single woman dancer (Danielle Howard), stage right, is working through something emotional alone. She is progressively more troubled throughout the piece. Why? Oh. Stage left, two male dancers make love, caressingly and tenderly dancing, unaware that any of us are watching. Bernard H. Gaddis and Roman Pantoja are electric together – beautiful and sexy. The audience around me doesn’t catch on what they’re seeing until the climactic end when Danielle reacts to “seeing” the men.
Stepping up on my soapbox for a moment: Note here to Dallas audiences: appreciating the arts is appreciating diversity – gay, straight, old, young, black, white, red, brown, yellow, man, woman, liberal, conservative, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, athiest, indigenous person, immigrant. It shouldn’t surprise you to see a gay couple depicted on stage in 2011, people! Tittering, whispering, making noises of disgust, being palpably uncomfortable is unworthy of the performance. Stepping down off my soapbox now.
“Variations 1” is next up. This is a really strong showpiece for Diana, Christopher, Sean and Jamie. I think this is the strongest ensemble piece of the evening for tightly choreographed and finely executed quartet dancing. Bravo! Diana is gorgeous in bright white and the men are in black short leotards with chest cutouts. A percussion soundtrack beats incessantly while the four dances walk around and across the stage (what good posture dancers have!), looking at one another against green footlights. Bongos!
And finally, the piece de resistance – Dianne McIntyre’s “Nina Simone Project.” So many things to write about.
First, Nina Simone’s life and music are just layers and layers of delicious. Second, actress Regina Taylor is gorgeous, expressive, looking fine, and spot-on perfect for the narration of the piece. It was a great coup to get her for the shows.
The ballet has nine movements and even then we didn’t want it to end. It’s biographical, starting with Nina’s church upbringing and the gospel number “Com’ by H’Yere.” Everyone is dancin’ in their Sunday best, slain and falling and helping each other up and witness to the spirit.
The women’s costumes are those prints that evoke the period - congratulations to Beth Thomason, costume designer for this whole ballet.
Next, “Cotton Eyed Joe” with dancers Tyler and Michelle – she in a sumptuous orange dress with print trim. Narrator Regina as Nina explains she would have been married far sooner if it hadn’t been for Cotton Eyed Joe. The dance depicts that crazy-in-love feeling we’ve all had and wish we could find again just one more time.
“Color is a Beautiful Thing” has a Peter, Paul, and Mary vibe – folksy and light.
“Be My Husband” is an a capella spiritual with drums and shows off three couples interpretive skills. All six are fantastic, but I have to tell you, I love it when Sean Smith and Shelly Hebert are paired together.
“Backlash Blues” is funky, bluesy, and bad. The dancers are all attitude here and sporting an “in your face” sorta tailfeathers riff step that’s perfect. Strong women figure prominently in this piece. It’s 1963, Medgar Evers has been killed on his doorstep, and the Birmingham church bombing took four children. Times are changing.
Derrick Smith in a beret swaggers on the stage and leads the fight for civil rights. Off go Jamie Thompson one way and Tyrone Walker another while Derrick tries to work his charm on the ladies – who aren’t buying it.
“Funkier than a Mosquito’s Tweeter” ends with Jamie a casualty of the civil rights fight. His fellow dancers carry him off.
“I Sing Just to Know that I’m Alive” has us fast-forwarded to 1981 and an explosion of orange costumes, a disco beat, Carnivale! masks and conga lines. This is Pure Joy! Despite setbacks, sadness, pain, and trouble, the world keeps spinning. Let’s celebrate!
“Fodder in Her Wings” features Rachel McSween and blindfolded dancers emoting to this ballad tour-de-force from Simone.
And finally, because all shows have to end eventually (and this one lasted 2.5 hours too) – “Consummation.” The company are angels in white with gauzy sheer wings dancing large to this anthem – all smiles.
Dallas Black Dance Theater - you all are a part of the very very finest and best of the Dallas arts scene. Love you and see you in “The Wiz!”