FOREVER TOUCHED BY YOUR LEGACY: 90TH BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE TO KATHERINE DUNHAM.
Dancers from Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, KO-THI, Wylliams/Henry Dance Chicago joined in a beautifully rehearsed tribute to Katherine Dunham on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday. Unfortunately, the distant and unfamiliar location in Evergreen Park did not attract an audience large enough to make a birthday donation. And Dunham was unable to attend. The dancers, however, performed as if she were in the audience--as if somehow from her bed in East St. Louis she might actually see what was going on--and so they presented themselves with a combination of exuberance and honesty.
The tribute was organized by Laurie Goux, who was trained in Dunham technique by the late Tommy Gomez, and by Rasheed Akbar, executive director of S.I.T.T.E. (Staying in Touch Through EduTainment) and the Legacy Theater. A co-owner of Legacy, Vacera Morgan, introduced each company. She explained that the program included four vocalists known as Quiet Storm was because they had worked with Motown artists whose dance routines had been partly shaped by Dunham. For those of us who listened to those Detroit songs of the sixties on the radio and remember the words, it was wonderful to revisit the smooth, rich sound of The Temptations accompanied by that fancy precision footwork. This dance concert kept more than one legacy alive.
In testament to Dunham's wide-ranging interest in the dances of the African diaspora and their relation to twentieth-century concert dance, the program embedded vivid re-creations of Haitian and African group ritual within a choreographic "frame" of American jazz and modern dance duets. The Saturday night performance opened with part of the song, "Summertime" from the Giordano repertoire. The Wylliams/Henry troupe from Kansas City closed the show with a portrayal of a lover's disillusionment, danced to a blues number by Donny Hathaway. Dancer Deeanna Hiett appeared midway through the concert in a breathtaking solo choreographed by Leni Wylliams. Every jump and extension into space was reamed out beyond the point where a balanced recovery seemed possible. Yet the dance went on, just like the blues.
Congo drummers from the KO-THI African Dance Company of Milwaukee came on just after Quiet Storm had finished a finely nuanced version of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone." KO-THI performed Noel Hall's study of Haitian dance, Salute to the Islands; Suite Lavinia. This piece alternates exhilarating passages of Haitian drumming with beautifully costumed African-Haitian dance. The opening "Dance Ibo," a tribute to the "fighting spirit" of an enslaved people, requires that the dancers perform as if chained together while demonstrating their resistance with jutting elbows and flexed hands. Muntu Dance Theatre, in an all-too-brief appearance, followed with Amaniyea Payne's Djalli Dong ("The Dance of the Griots"), derived from West African sources, and a spectacular "Big Dance" from Mali--Dombah--by Alyo Tolbert.
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|Author:||MOORE, NANCY G.|
|Article Type:||Dance Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1999|
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