by Lewis J. Whittington for The Dance Journal | photo credit Julieanne Harris
International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) 2020 convention, titled THEN | NOW | NEXT, took place January 14 through the 19th in Philadelphia, where it all began. Founded in 1988 by Joan Myers Brown and hosted this year by Philadanco, it all started with a Pew Foundation check for $5,000 that brought together five African-American dance companies to start building what has become a global consortium of dancers, teachers, choreographers, and media organizers that convene each year in a different cities across the United States.
IABD wanted to return to Philadelphia this year to honor Brown’s dual anniversaries of 50 years for Philadanco and 60 years for her dance school. The conference was bigger than ever, with close to 1,000 registrants attending the full slate of conference events. For five nights, visiting and local audiences filled the Merriam Theater which hosted performances by over 30 visiting dance companies in mixed programs with other Philadelphia based troupes.
All week there has been a crammed itinerary of IABD initiatives, projects and confabs among the participating companies, schools and organizations about the state of dance arts. The conference has become an epicenter for master classes and auditions for aspiring professional dancers. The scope of IABD continues to grow to influence the whole industry. IABD’s ‘Equity Project,’ for instance, directly addresses issues of racial discrimination and tokenism both on stage and administratively that is still pervasive in classical ballet.
The Dance Festival side of the Conference lived up to Joan Myers Brown’s often stated credo that “dance companies should look like America.” Here are some of the highlights from the first three IABD festival performance nights.
JANUARY 15 – OPENING NIGHT – PHILLY & FRIENDS
Kulu Mele Dance & Drum Ensemble |excerpt from ‘Fula Fare’| Choreographer: Youssouf Koumbassa
The drummers of Kulu Mele accompanied the ceremonial women’s trio in ‘Fula Fare’, and choreographed by Koumbassa symbolized the harvest bounty, and certainly the bounty of dance to come. The drums heated up as the men ceremoniously pulsed onstage to join the women. The rhythmic patterns fueled hop-steps, witty crouched struts and punchy acrobatics that drew shouts from the audience. Master Djembe and drummer Ira Bond moved among the dancers in the finale with driving syncopation as the dancers exited to a lusty applause.
Danse4Nia Repertory Ensemble | Choreographer: Wayne David
A cast of nine young women in silky nightgowns danced to pop chanteuse Noelella’s version of ‘The Sound of Silence’ as expressions of anger gave way to a scenario that was more manifesto than teen angst. Themes of misogyny, oppression, and being ignored culminated with the message ‘NO’. Each dancer making it perfectly clear that things are going to be different #USTOO.
Straight to the Pointe | He’s Working | Choreographer: Stephanie Dembe
Soloist, Aaron Frisby opened to ‘He’s Working’ by soulfully dancing to a voice over of a fiery religious sermon that gave way to a mighty gospel choir. Led by Jakelyn Carr, twenty-five women in purple dance gowns swept onstage in sharp unison with dazzling group jetes and rapturous breakout solos.
DMB#dbdanceproject | Falling Into | Choreographer: Dawn Marie Bazemore
This excerpt from ‘Letters’ by Bazemore, a former Philadanco dancer, was a contemporary narrative about a troubled couple, danced by the duet of Joe Gonzales and Jhelan Gordan-Salaam. The fragmented movement was so expressive with halting phrases that essayed their internal struggle. These dancers conveyed all the underlying intimacy with pathos and restraint. Equally gripping was the original soundscape by composer Jeff Story
D/ 2 |Inner Being |Choreographer: Dahlia Patterson
D/2 is Philadanco’s apprentice company. This contemporary showpiece demonstrated their strengths in delivering driving contemporary ballet not linked to any narrative. ‘Inner Being’ released the inner dancer going full out and carrying forward Danco’s technical acumen with the next generation. This piece may have been packed with tricks but it was pure fun.
Waheed Works | Tears, we cannot stop | Choreographer: Tommie Waheed Evans
Choreographer, Waheed Evans doesn’t shy away from social issues on the dance stage and his scenario in ‘Tears, we cannot stop’ is framed by a voice-over of police shootings of unarmed black men. A reading of the names of the victims overlaps with the music of Arvo Part which swells as dancers Anthony Rhodes and Antonio Wright brilliantly dance the narrative. Waheed Evans’ choreographed violent fragments of movement laced with hauntingly vivid and emotional lyrical passages.
Just Sole! Street Dance Theater Company | ‘The Root’ (excerpt) | Choreographer: Kyle & Danita Clark
Choreographer Kyle and Danita Clark were the elders, leading a younger cast of their own ensemble with straightforward hip-hop fusion with flowing ensemble lines and shimmering pure dance patterns that keep evolving.
JANUARY 16 – TRENDSETTERS
A concert featuring 21 Youth and Collegiate Companies were the TRENDSETTERS. It just may have been the hottest ticket in town on a very frigid night in Philly. With an almost sold-out Merriam Theater, that repeatedly felt like a soccer stadium, the audience bounded out of their seats several times during the lengthy showcase that ran over 2 ¾ hours.
This concert bodes well for the future of dance in America. It also provided a panoramic peek of what is happening nationally among the next generation of dance artists. This collective represented a healthy mix of traditional disciplines and new concepts in dance with revivals of the tap sophistication of 30’s musicals, to dance-theater scenarios, social justice dance narratives, abstract concepts, and everything in between from club idioms to house down athletic street moves.
JANUARY 17 – TRAILBLAZERS
With eleven professional companies on Night 3 and 4, there were many highlights (and a few misses) But as in the previous nights with two or three well earned, lusty standing ovations during the concerts, both on the floor and in the balcony of a sold-out Merriam Theater.
Chicago’s Deeply Rooted Dance Theater | ‘Until Lambs Become Lions’ | Choreographer: Nicole Clarke-Springer
This was a riveting manifesto of humanity danced by Dominique Atwood, Marlayna Locklear, Rebekah Kuczma, Nyemah Stuart and scored to the raw vocal of Nina Simone’s rendition of George Harrison’s ‘Isn’t it a Pity.’ The choreography is achingly constricted in halting movements, dancers recoiling to the floor clutching their red dance gowns implying oppression and perhaps sexual assault. The traumatic scenario gives way to radiant turns and contemporary balletic quartet, a triumphant manifesto of freedom. This piece is art in motion in real-time.
Eleone Dance Theater| ‘Unveiled’ | Choreographer: Anthony Rhodes
Eleone dancer, Anthony Rhodes choreographed ‘Unveiled’, scored to the propulsive cinematic music of Hans Zimmerman. Rhodes unleashed a fuselage of athletic movement with the full Eleone company of two dozen dancers in colliding mise-en-scenes and chaotic choreography packed with intensity and precision.
Dance Iquail!| ‘Feel’ (excerpt fr. Public Enemy) | Choreographer: Iquail Shaheed
A dramatic dance for five men with floating scenarios of intimacy. It was so full of dynamic movement architecture that was forward driving and so self-defining that you don’t need to decipher it to be hypnotized by Dance Iquail’s technical artistry.
Cleo Parker Robinson Dance- Cleo II- | ‘Tara’ | Choreographer: Kun-Yang Lin
Chorographer Kun-Yang Lin taps into Cleo Parker Robinson Dance’s aesthetic of modern international dance with ‘Tara’ and a clubby score by composer Cory Neal. Lin makes this a culturally witty, pure movement abstract dance that is all about individual expression, laced with vogue variation.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre | ‘Tidal Intersections’ | Choreographer: Katarzyna Skarpetowska
DBDT’s presented with a cast of 12 dancers in long silky tunics for ‘Tidal Intersections’. The ensemble was a mystic continuum that kept moving in cross-streaming patterns. The dynamic counterpoint surged over the stage fueled by music by Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar. Among the outstanding solo sections were those danced by Alexandra Newkirk and Amauris Ortega.
Stay tuned for more coverage from the Trailblazers concert and the Torchbearers powerhouse concert on January 18th which included performances by Dance Theatre of Harlem, Urban Bush Women, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, and Philadanco!