Niles Ford/Urban Dance Collective

January 6, 2010

Niles Ford/Urban Dance Collective
Dixon Place, NYC

January 6–16, 2010

Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa


Conrad Rochester, Royce Zachery, and James “Cricket” Colter of Urban Dance Collective. Photo by Liz Liguori, courtesy Dixon Place.

In Search of the Invisible People
—a “danceumentary” by choreographer Niles Ford’s creative team—pays tribute to a lost generation of artists from the urban nightlife of the early 1980s. To this ecstatic, underground movement—called “house,” after Chicago’s Warehouse—dance was all about joy, about slipping free of repression. Everyone could bring something to the party, but, in particular, house elevated ferociously talented young people otherwise marginalized by race, class, and sexual orientation.

In clubs, as DJs crafted the propulsive atmospherics of release, queer black and Latino youth ruled the floor, working clever polyrhythms sourced in the black church, Latin/Afro-Caribbean traditions, jazz, R&B, and their own wicked imaginations. In Search, then, is this community’s creation myth.


Its backdrop video traces the movement’s icons, like Sylvester and Keith Haring, and sanctuaries like New York’s Paradise Garage; it also alludes to the meteoric rise of the hip hop industry, which came to obscure house and its celebrants. But In Search never bogs down in didactic or bitter nostalgia. It flows, and you—comfortably seated audience member—can “dance if you feel like it.” Ford’s company and guests prove that what only appears to be defunct can funk once again.

Ford and his collaborators developed this Dixon Place commission over five years. In 2008, I saw work-in-progress excerpts in the tiny confines of DP’s old Bowery loft space. Now, even the roomier new digs on Chrystie Street can barely contain the current production’s size and energy. Women dancers—whose flashy sequences once reminded me of trite Broadway jazz and music videos—have been given more individualized highlights. But the piece still rocks, undeniably, because of men like Archie Burnett, a master voguer of snappy, kaleidoscopic details; James “Cricket” Colter and Conrad Rochester with their proto–hip hop, flip hop acrobatics that risk making the “break” in breakdancing all too literal; and the mercurial Nathan Trice, a handsome powderkeg with whom Ford originally dreamed up In Search. They look good, move with power, and make the audience scream.

After thanking everyone for coming out on a cold night, Ford stopped to make a plea. Naming several DJs from the old days, he urged anyone who could contact them to “tell them that this show is about their work.” I couldn’t think of a more poignant way to bring In Search to its end.