Philadanco, the young, energetic black dance company that had its Washington premiere Friday night at the Takoma Theater, bills itself as "the dance company of the '80s." That phrase serves as a useful entree into an analysis of this company's style.
Certainly Philadanco's emphasis on pyrotechnics and good-natured glitz mirrors this decade's obsession with Olympic prowess and aerobic nirvana. Politically speaking, though, the company is stuck in the past. No dances about apartheid or Reagan's budget cuts for these performers. Instead, they give us Louis Johnson's "Forces of Rhythm" -- an effective but gimmicky dance tracing all manner of movement and rhythm back to Africa -- and Gene Hill Sagan's "Conversations for Seven Souls" -- an angst-filled piece set to a sound collage combining Gregorian chants with speeches by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. These works do celebrate the black experience but in the least specific, unprovocative ways imaginable.
No doubt the members of Philadanco see themselves as the progeny of a dance family that includes the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and the Dance Theater of Harlem. That's all well and good, but now it's time for these talented Philadelphians to forge their own collective personality.