Dallas Black Dance Theatre

January 24, 2012

Ailey Citigroup Theater
January 13–15, 2012

Performance reviewed: Jan. 13 (Program A)

Since this company is squarely within the Ailey mold, it’s fitting that it celebrated its 35th-anniversary season in the Ailey space. Highpoints in this program of seven pieces were Nycole Ray’s performance in a solo made for her by Bruce Wood and the exhilarating closing ensemble piece by Christopher Huggins.

Ray’s dramatic flair, intensity, and glamour carried Wood’s solo, The Edge of My Life…So Far. She kicked up some fine white powder on a desktop: Her past going up in smoke? The wistfulness of hope? Her sharp gestures and grounded body made her stunning to watch.

Dianne McIntyre’s Boundless Journey, a medley of folk-inspired scenes, brought out the dancers’ personalities. I particularly enjoyed Jamie Thompson, who, whether striding or staggering, had the kind of slight goofiness that makes you remember him.

Francesca Harper’s Instinct 11.1 (dedicated to her mother, Denise Jefferson) cast all six of DBDT’s men to music that included the driving beat of Watusi Warrior Drums. It began with coy, sink-into-the-hip posing but went on to be quite fierce. Like some of the other pieces, it would have made a stronger impact if it had ended earlier instead of trailing off.

The program notes for Ulysses Dove’s Vespers, a 1986 work made for Dayton Contemporary Dance Company that’s in the Ailey rep, say it’s about  the “spirituality of women who have a faith and belief in God that sustains and supports them all their lives.” However, these women strike me as being repressed, rushed, and abrupt with each other. Their movements on or around a chair are tight, sudden. One woman recoils as another puts a hand on her shoulder. A motif of pulling one’s skirt down over the knees seems to clamp down on sexuality. One woman even pulled another’s skirt down as though to scold her. Must faith in God mean annoyance at one’s fellow woman? To my eye, the title was the most spiritual thing about this work.

I found Hope Boykin’s in•ter•pret (2005) puzzling. The majestic Tchaikovsky music is identifiable in the first two notes as the famous music for Balanchine’s Serenade. Is she referencing that work, which is one of the most beloved of all 20th-century ballets? I think not. In this jokey piece with exuberant high fives, a dancer falls to the floor, another dancer kicks that person, and all continue to cavort. For me the memory of Balanchine’s sublime ballet washed away whatever charms Boykin’s romp has.

Absolute Rule
, an intense duet contributed by Elisa Monte, gave us another chance to see the charismatic Nycole Ray, partnered by Richard A. Freeman, Jr. With strikingly designed lifts and sudden vice grips, Absolute Rule is about power plays between two willful people who also want affection—when they demand it.

Huggins is a master of high-octane closers like this one—Night Run (2003). He gets the whole company of 12 moving in couples, throwing in solo riffs that show off what each is good at. He builds excitement by juxtaposing brisés with struts, pirouettes with a muscular, loping run. The partner work is witty; the music by Rene Aubry gets you revved up; the momentum never lags. With the rest of the program behind them, the dancers loosened up and threw themselves into this. The dance and the dancing were one.

Photo: Nycole Ray in Bruce Wood’s
The Edge of My Life…So Far. By Richard Rodriguez, courtesy DBDT.