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A weeklong program of dance events brought crowds to the 651 Arts Center. A dance concert series was the jewel in the crown of activities assembled under the title Black Dance: Tradition and Transformation. Celebrating its thirtieth anniversary season with a full schedule of performances in Program A, Philadanco represented "Tradition" with a well-deserved evening to itself, while three newer companies--Bre Dance Theatre, M'Zawa Danz and Union Dance Company of London--heralded "Transformation" in a second program.

I have observed "Danco" over the past two decades, and I have watched the company grow, deepen and mature. The repertory continues the grand tradition established by modern dance masters Katherine Dunham and Alvin Ailey, but it certainly is no antique. The same forces (strong ballet technique, modern dance basis and contemporary influences ranging from contact improvisation and gymnastics to hip-hop and martial arts) that animate the fledgling companies on Program B are essential to Danco's profile.

Milton Myers, the company's resident choreographer, knows this ensemble and brings out its best. Echoes, his tribute to Ailey, configures and reconfigures "Ailey-isms," from Lester Horton body layouts to fabulous extensions and pelvic and chest articulations-- reminding us how this movement vocabulary has become public domain and is incorporated in American concert dance, black and white. (I find it difficult to categorize dance in black and white terms: African aesthetic principles are basic to white American concert dance and help define it as American; European aesthetic principles are essential to any concept of concert dance.) As in Memoria, Ailey's tribute to dancer/choreographer Joyce Trisler, sacrifices are made in overall intention and focus of the dance for the sake of homage, and internal logic is subordinated to excerpting from Ailey masterpieces. John Adams's music is expansive, joyful. Seeing Ailey through Myers's eyes made me aware of the many layers in his work--modern, ballet, African--so brilliantly interwoven to create a unique genre.

Hope Boykin is a dangerous dancer: She's so riveting that it is easy to forget to watch the whole stage picture. She offered a stunning solo in Echoes and performed with distinction all evening.

Philadanco veteran (and assistant artistic director) Kim Y. Bears has a way with every role she assumes, and she movingly performed as the leader in the Ring Shout section of Talley Beatty's Southern Landscape. This work is a classic American modern dance that, with minimal means and three short scenes, limns the joy/sorrow of African American life in the post-Reconstruction South. Although it is a period piece, the work has lost none of its impact.

Dwight Rhoden's Tribute, a real crowd-pleaser, was set to Philly soul music from recent decades, and reflected the ironic attitude embedded in some of those songs, particularly Am I Black Enough for You? and Money.

Watching Program B made me acutely aware that concert dance has already been broadened by alternative forms (hip-hop, martial arts, voguing). I was intrigued by M'Zawa Danz, which uses African and hip-hop forms as its technical base. The result is an explosive, percussive, street-smart energy that has not been rearranged or finessed through the lens of modern and ballet techniques. M'Zawa's ebullient, youthful energy compensated for whatever lapses of invention occasionally clogged the choreography. Like Philadelphia's Rennie Harris PureMovement ensemble (which also works from an African/hip-hop base), the integration of movement, music, percussion, song and the spoken word hearkens back to the African continental tradition of total theater. M'Zawa Danz was outstanding in breaking down and isolating African movements, reconfiguring them as energy cells.

Union Dance showed sections of Dance Tek Warriors, choreographed by Doug Elkins and Michael Joseph (Union dancer and rehearsal director). Elkins's section was nervous, rather than nervy--packed tight with motifs. Joseph's--slow, formal, and pristinely beautiful--is based on the Brazilian martial arts form capoeira. The dancers are "acrobats of God," with Charemaine Seer, Garry Benjamin and Curtis James dancing beautifully in duets and trios. Their chemistry, more like siblings than lovers, was tangible and appropriate to the theme of martial moods.

Los Angeles's Bre Dance Theatre is Hollywood--voguing, the runway and the nightclub all in one. They dazzled in the final slot on the program. The evening was full, the audience was ecstatic, and a good time was had by all.
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Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Jun 1, 2000

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