Tickets to see Dallas Black Dance Theatre perform at the Publick Playhouse are a fraction of what it costs to see Alvin Ailey at the Kennedy Center, but never assume this Texas-based troupe offers a fraction of the talent. Dallas Black Dance Theatre performed in Cheverly for the 10th straight year this weekend, lighting up a crowd that knows the dancers so well, they cheer with every pelvic thrust.
The Friday show opened with “Southern Recollections: For Romare Bearden,” a new work by former Evidence dancer Bridget L. Moore, who is now based in Dallas and, evidently, a promising young choreographer. The suite is set to a sublime collection of jazz mash-ups, with John Coltrane’s sax wafting over new electronic scores. The opening section was the strongest and required the dancers, dressed in classy clubbing attire, to swirl across the stage with a series of tight, crossed-arm turns, performed high on their bare toes but executed as smoothly as twizzling ice dancers. The movement closed with the dancers slowly assembling a nightclub tableau, as if posing for one of Bearden’s Harlem Renaissance collages. Other movements were less distinct. Atmospheric projections, including the artist’s work, might help tie the piece together.
Moore’s 2013 premiere was followed by an 81-year-old classic. It’s hard to imagine any man performing Asadata Dafora’s “Ostrich” dance better than Christopher McKenzie Jr. With each step, his supple spine curved forward by a foot, mimicking a bird’s serpentine neck. When he squatted down in a deep, second-position plie, going up on his toes and holding the pose for 10 thigh-burning seconds, the crowd went crazy.
Sex appeal was a main theme in “Thinking of You,” hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris’s 2012 work for the company. “I just want to touch your body,” Josh Milan crooned over the staticky speakers, but the real show here was the dancers’ feet. Their sneakers flashed forward and back, but with such control that the dancers managed to tap, either heel-toe or side-side, with every step.
The program closed with “Beams From Heaven,” a 2010 gospel medley that smacks of an attempt to capitalize on Alvin Ailey’s eternal crowd-pleaser “Revelations.” “Beams” lacks that classic’s spiritual heft, but every other work onstage affirmed that to see a solid performance of contemporary black dance last weekend, all you needed was $25 and a trip to Cheverly.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.