"Black Woman I Know," at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater last night, involved eight dancers, 10 choreographers, musicians and a large production staff, but the originator, star and radiant center of the evening was Edna Lee Long, whose personal magnetism was more than equal to the challenge.
Long is a prodigiously alluring young woman with legs that remind you of Cyd Charisse and a gift of movement that has the eye following every curl of a fingertip. A native of Chicago who has made her home in Washington for the last decade, she is the co-founder and director, with Phillip H. Cole, of the city's Cole-Harrison Dance Company, and currently also heads the dance program at the University of the District of Columbia.
Last night's program was a revised and much amplified version of a similar potpourri Long first presented about six years ago. To some half dozen of the original dance numbers have been added dramatic skits, mood pieces, recitations, songs and a few new dances, all under the direction of Linda F. Wharton. The title theme has been very broadly interpreted -- some of the numbers were autobiographical (a skit about Long's childhood fantasies of becoming a ballerina, for example); some dealth with character types (a "bag lady" impersonation, a borderline-rauchy dance sketch to "The St. Louis Blues" about a bar girl jived and beaten); one medley portrayed Billie Holliday in melancholy decline; and the finale, a bit of updated Ziegfeld with snappy dance patter by La Verne Reed, had eight men in white tip, top hat and tails escorting Long down a ramp of circular steps to disco music.
Somehow the program's leitmotif -- what it means to be black and a woman in a white man's world -- often faded from view amid the glitter, the sexiness, the Broadway veneer of the show. And the choreography -- by Long herself, Cole, Reed, Keith Lee and other collaborators -- fused jazz, modern, classical and other idioms without rising much above the cliche level. What held it all together and made the sparks fly was Long -- not just through her versatile dancing but through her sensuous presence, her conviction, her glamor.
The event was an arts scholarship benefit for the Washington alumnae chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority; toward the program's close Effi Barry took the stage to present the organization's Family of Arts award to celebrated dancer Carmen de Lavallade and (in absentia) her choreographer husband, Geoffrey Holder.