REVIEW: The Black Dance Festival

Presented by Second Generation Dance Company

Friday, July 17, 2008

Heinen Theater

The bi-annual Black Dance Festival (BDF) presented by Second Generation Dance Company provides a welcome opportunity for community-based groups and more traditional dance companies to perform on the same bill. The mix makes it harder for the less polished in the line-up, but the generous crowd in attendance last Friday night enjoyed each offering. In addition to two professional showcases, the BDF also included a youth showcase, an evening of Praise dance, and even a midnight African dance class. With a theme of “Building the Bridges of Diversity,” the spirit of inclusion pervaded the evening’s festivities.

The noble slam poetess La’ Crystal 7 bellows her own riveting text from“wake up is good” from a chair to launch jhon r. stronks Catch and Release Chapter IV: Do I Move You? She so galvanizes our attention that it’s hard not to watch all that follows in stronks’ puzzling, but always captivating, work. The program notes state “Catch and Release is a meditation on growth and the power of letting go viewed through the lens of the African American oral tradition.” OK, but there’s little tradition in stronk’s choreographic methods. His unruly piece unfolds according to its own logic, and it’s best to let the actual work teach you how to watch it. If you can successfully let go of the usual glue that holds a dance work together Catch and Release’s charms become apparent. Utilizing a confluence of movement styles including hip-hop, post-modern, and improvisatory techniques, stronks dares to play with alternative structures for making dances that are more intuitive and considerably less predictable. He creates a broad field for dancing where the eye has choices. Additional text by Nina Simone, Angela Davis, Martin Luther King Jr. and Essex Hamphill provided a striking counterpoint to stronks’ loosely organized style. The top-notch dancers included Alex Abarca, Corian Ellisor, Jonnesha Hawkins-Minter, Jocelyn Thomas, Brittany Wallis, La’Crystal 7, and stronks.

The youngest company on the dance block, Urban Souls Dance Company, also made a strong showing in Walther Hull and Harrison Guy’s Scarlett Situation, a moving thought piece on HIV/AIDS. Hull and his troupe of sinewy dancers showed off some of the best dancing of the evening. Blending pointed dynamics and razor-sharp execution, the piece riffed on pain, resolve, and healing without being too literal. Watch out for more from this new troupe, which included Rachel Eckroth, Jadie Gill, Hull, Tiffani Hall, Michael Baerga, and Quincy Tollivier.

Kenneth Epting of Exclamation Dance Company demonstrated he is on the comeback trail with Frosted Haze and another unnamed work. Novel partnering characterized the duet tentatively performed by Gina Lewis and and Casey Boyle. Ashley Garcia-Rameau’s precise dancing stood out in both pieces. Unfortunately, under rehearsed ensemble work got in the way of fully realizing Epting’s intentions.

The evening also included crowd pleasing performances by Soul Time Line, Second Generation Dance Company, Kuumba House Dance Theatre, and Beckles Dancing Company. But it was two youngsters in Koumanke’le Dance & Drum Ensemble that melted our hearts in their spirited performance of Triba/Sorsonet. Sound and lighting technical glitches along with the incessant sound of snapping cameras interrupted the considerably too-long program.

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