Reviewed by Steve Sucato
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Saturday’s “Founders Showcase” proved an emphatic exclamation point to The International Association of Blacks in Dance’s 27th annual conference and festival held for the first time in Cleveland.
The all-star program presented by Cleveland Dance Movement of some of the nation’s top dance companies at PlayhouseSquare’s Ohio Theatre was unlike any in magnitude and quality in recent memory in Cleveland.
Ohio’s own Dayton Contemporary Dance Company kicked off the program with choreographer Kiesha Lalama’s “Shed.” Seven dancers in trench coats began slow hypnotic movement to John de Kadt’s drum poetry tune “This Rhythm is Not Mine” that soon gave way to a pulsing beat as the dancers shed their coats and dived headlong into uber-smart choreography that smacked one in the face with its super-cool attitude.
The dancers strutted and gyrated, pausing occasionally with music to exchange knowing glances at one another and eliciting shouts from the audience.
Next, in the first of several social commentary pieces on the program, was an excerpt titled “Search for Humanism,” performed by Los Angeles-based Lula Washington Dance Theatre.
A powerful statement on the recent killings of unarmed African-Americans, the work began with a symbolic mother figure stamping a long staff onto the floor and shouting “Stop killing my kids,” a phrase repeated in gesture throughout the piece. Set to jazz music by Marcus Miller and choreographed by Washington, the work used provocative imagery such as a dancer in a hoodie and slogans like “I can’t breathe” to drive home in a beautiful, sobering way the need for change.
A diamond amongst many jewels on the program, Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s “Memoirs,” choreographed by Garfield Lemonius, had everything going for it, including a moving score by Max Richter, beautiful imagery and stellar dancing.
Dallas Black’s 12 dancers in red appeared and disappeared from darkness at the rear of the stage, moving with grace and fluidity in wonderfully patterned group phrases interspersed with delicious partnering sequences that oozed Lemonius’ choreographic genius.
After Forces of Nature Dance Theatre’s “Club Legacy (1999): The Hands Up/WS Down Remix (2014), ” a nicely danced, if overworked extravaganza that felt like two separate works, Camille A. Brown & Dancers’ “Black Girl: Linguistic Play” set a gritty tone.
The work-in-progress commissioned by DANCECleveland performed to live bass and piano music featured a half dozen female dancers in street garb moving through Brown’s signature mix of conversational contemporary dance and tap movement that spoke volumes to a more genuine representation of black women in urban American culture. Brown’s street-wise choreography for it was slick, the performers mesmerizing.
Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Da’ Von Doane and Nayara Lopes then treated the dance-savvy audience to a solid performance of George Balanchine’s technically challenging classical ballet masterwork, “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.” Lopes’ smooth footwork and delicate grace delighted as did Doane’s dynamic leaps and turns.
Rounding out the program were Cleo Parker Robinson Dance’s “Free?,” a dance based on the Civil Rights Movement, and “Latched,” a tour-de-force by Christopher Huggins with IABD founder Joan Myers Brown’s Philadanco.
A stylistic and emotional blend of hip hop and modern dance choreographed by Rennie Harris, the piece was adroitly delivered by CPRD’s dancers but came off a bit preachy in tone; Huggins’ relentless, fast-paced choreography, meanwhile, had Philadanco’s dancers streaming on and off the stage in combative athletic choreography depicting the combustive nature of interpersonal relationships.
A highlight of this dance season, IABD’s “Founders Showcase” hit a bull’s-eye with its engaging works and magnificent dancing.