by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal
Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes was on Merriam Theater stage January 18th to introduce Denise Saunders Thompson, CEO of the International Association of Blacks in Dance, along with “the one, the only, Joan Myers Brown”. The crowd was already on its feet in anticipation as she took the stage. The theater was sold out for the fourth night of concerts that featured a stellar line-up of African-American dance companies in a program aptly titled ‘TRAILBLAZERS’.
In introductory remarks, Thompson praised Brown’s leadership in establishing the organization. Brown returning the praise noting how vital Thompson’s leadership has been “looking after 30 companies, including Philadanco.”
Brown asked the Philadanco alums and students representing “four generations of dancers “in the audience to stand. Brown adding modestly “with IABD, my company Philadanco, and my school…that’s my reward to the city of Philadelphia. I think I’ve done pretty good.” Brown joked. The audience responded in kind to that understatement.
Later in the show, Thompson brought back on stage many of the company Artistic Directors representing 30 organizations that have advocated for Blacks in Dance going back decades.
This would prove to be a dance night to remember.
But first, as promised in Part 1, the remaining reviews of note from the previous night’s festival concert.
JANUARY 17 – TORCHBEARERS (continued)
BalletEthnic Dance Company | ‘Love Pas De Deux’ | choreographer Waverly T. Lucas II
‘Love’ pas de deux from choreographer Lucas’ adaptation of Pearl Cleage’s play ‘Flyin’ West, dramatized the black migration from the southern slave states to Kansas in the 19th century. This was set to Robert Flack’s version of “Angelitos Negros” by Manuel Alvarez Maciste. This duet is a charming balletic courting dance which dancers Karla Tyson and Calvin Gentry made simmer with dramatic intensity.
Dissonance Dance Theatre | ‘Unsettled’ | chor. Kameron M. Saunders
Soloist, Christine Motta dances around three female-male couples engaged in mid-tempo duets. Saunders’ contemporary piece ‘Unsettled’ is set to suspenseful string electronica by Karlsson. The couples’ silky ballet lines are sustained within Saunders’ sensual duets. Meanwhile, Motta mirrors some of the couples moves before flying off with air-slicing jetes and steely turns.
JANUARY 18 – TRAILBLAZERS
Forces of Nature Dance Theater | ‘Memorial T ‘19’ | chor. Abdel R. Salaam
The ceremonial cast of ‘Memorial T ‘19’ enters in a sacred processional holding votive candles in glass bowls. They move in quiet patterns and place the candles around the stage as a voice-over narration calls the names of choreographers, dancers and educators who have passed away in the last year. Included were such industry legends as DTH founder Arthur Mitchell and dance teacher Baba Chuck Davis. After this invocation, the jubilant music of Sauti Sol ignites the ensemble of twelve in a soulful movement meditation of sacred dances.
Abdel Salaam’s piece proved the stirring prologue to the presentation two IABD Inspirational Artist Awards, awarded posthumously to Temple alum Kavin T. Grant and Ailey dancer Derrick Minter. They were honored for their “outstanding work as an entrepreneur, performer and educator across the country.” Accepting on their behalf were friends and family members, who introduced short films about the honorees.
Urban Bush Women | ‘Women’s Resistance’ | chor. Jawole Willa Jo Zollar & Germaine Acogny
The soloist who opens ‘Women’s Resistance’ responds to a natural soundscape of birds singing, tree branches breaking, animals moving in the underbrush. Her movement become more transformative as she calls in the other dancers with a personal expression that evoked strategies of survival. Choreographer/directors Jo Zollar and Acogny fueling this work that speaks to every age – a dance primal scream of inviolate power.
Dance Theatre of Harlem | Le Corsaire (extract) | chor. Marius Petipa
The audience broke into applause when the 19th-century ballet music of Adolph Adams flooded the theater and Alexandra Hutchinson, Ingrid Silva and Stephanie Rae, three black ballerinas, piqued across the stage in dazzling silver bodice tutus ready to bring their interpretations to the classicism of Marius Petipa’s ‘Odalisque Pas De Trois from Le Corsaire. This multi-generational audience went wild at their shimmering jetes, pointe work, and thrilling paced fouettes and the altogether dazzling artistry of this trio.
Ronald K. Brown/Evidence | ‘Grace’ | chor. Ronald K. Brown
Dancer, Antique Roberts’ sinuous praise gestures state the theme in his solo opening to Ronald K Brown’s ‘Grace’. The full company then streams onstage to the pulsing rhythms of Roy Davis and Fela Costume. Brown’s choreography has such liberating musicality that gushes forth with a choreographic synergy that echoes generations of diasporan dance liturgy.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater | ‘The Winter in Lisbon’ | chor. Billy Wilson
Choreographer, Billy Wilson’s 40’s romance piece, celebrating a bygone era, was set to a haunting jazz ballad by Dizzy Gillespie. The atmosphere and immense charm of partners Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims carried the work. The Ailey Company was one of the premier companies on this powerhouse performance night, however, this struck as a filler performance entry, not rising to the occasion. None-the-less, the audience was still enchanted.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre |’Execution of a Sentiment’ | Darrell Grand Moultrie
‘Execution of a Sentiment’ is a driving contemporary ballet piece scored to the modernist baroque music of Enzio Bosso. Moultrie instructing the cast of twelve dancers to strip away any preconceived character to achieve the abstract and thus, pure dance expressionism. The results are innovative and hypnotic in this gripping work.
PHILADANCO! | ‘Conglomerate’ | chor. Anthony Burrell
‘Conglomerate’ is a high-octane ensemble work that Anthony Burrell set on ‘Danco in 2018. Burrell has choreographed dance for Beyoncé and other superstars and Conglomerate has the flash of those diva-esque styles, but wisely not as much sustained flashdance. Still, it is full of tricks in an attitude face-off of the battle of the sexes and Philadanco puts their own stamp on it with a full-throttle attack that made this the rowdiest in its audience approval after three hours of dance.
It was also on this evening that additional IABD awards were presented, notably to choreographer Ronne Arnold who received IABD’s International Acclaim Legendary Artist Award who for 60 years presented African-American diasporan dance and modern dance to Australia. The final honorarium was IABD’s Scholar Award presented to legendary dancer-choreographer-researcher Dr. Glory Van Scott for lifelong academic achievements to advance Black Dance in America
At one point, Joan Myers Brown returned to the stage to present the Reginald Van Lee Outstanding Philanthropy Award to Marian A. Godfrey. Brown told the audience that it was Ms. Godfrey, who worked for the Pew Fellowship in the 80’s, and didn’t hesitate to write that first check of $5,000 to launch IABD in 1988. Brown quickly adding, “and when I went back the next year for more money she wrote another for $100,000.”
In accepting the award, Godfrey said that it was “Joan’s vision” that made it a reality. Brown recalled that the first IABD Conference had 60 participants. She then paused and observed. “Look where we are now, over a thousand registrants this year and audiences who have filled the Merriam Theater all this week”.
In a postscript this week on Facebook, Brown commented “The 32nd IABD conference is over. By all comments, it went well. Yesterday Philadanco started its 50th Anniversary touring season as it opened its week-long run for Lincoln Center’s Dept. of Education…. who said I was retiring? Not till I get that million dollar check…. Thanks to all the folks who continue to support and love me, I can keep going. NEXT!”
photo credit: courtesy of IABD Conference – Denise Saunders Thompson and Joan Myers Brown