"Women of Color -- Weaving a Cultural Artistry" was both the title and the leitmotif of a dance concert at Howard University's Cramton Auditorium Friday night featuring guest choreographers Pearl Reynolds and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. The event, which drew an approving audience of several hundred, got its message across and waxed to moments of high inspiration. As often as not, though, it seemed more rewarding in concept than in realization.
The guest choreographers, both based in New York, have impressive re'sume's. Reynolds has worked with Dunham, Primus, Beatty and other notables, is on the Ailey company's staff and directs the Historic Black Dance Arts Center. The younger Zollar is the founder, director and chief soloist of Urban Bush Women, a troupe that has won very favorable notice in two short years of existence.
The three Reynolds pieces were neatly proportioned dances in the Dunham tradition, using mainly Afro-Caribbean movement idioms. "Journey," a premiere, had an ensemble of five women evolving from chopping, digging and other motions suggestive of agrarian labor, toward an upward reaching circle of exultation -- a metaphoric trip from servility to liberation. "Comparsa" was a vivacious number adapted from Cuban folk dance for the same five performers. The area dancers assembled for the occasion conveyed the spirit of these works, but lacked the polish and cohesion that come only from working together over a long period.
The best of the Reynolds offerings was another premiere, "Spirit," a brief, poignant solo of yearning and aspiration set to a song by the noted group Sweet Honey in the Rock. Dancer Lori Love's wreathing arms, finely arched back and luxuriant stretches made the pull of the music beautifully visible.
Zollar opened the evening's second half with a solo, "Lifedance . . . The Fool's Journey" (excerpted from "XPUJLA"), that was African in flavor, but distinctly individual and contemporary in sensibility. It depicted the metamorphosis of a young, irrepressibly ebullient woman into a painfully infirm old crone, with a sudden, amusing reversion to youth at the end. The piece itself looked long-winded and spotty, but Zollar's dancing was at once dramatic, charming and silkily deft.
The finale was "A Little Bit of Us . . .," conceived and directed by Zollar and danced by her and five members of the Urban Bush Women. It was like a block party with breakaway, improvisational solos featuring storytelling, song, dance and characterization. Excessively cute in its artifices, the work strained too hard to milk audience reaction. On the other hand, it showed off the handsome, splendidly trained company members to frequent advantage, along with the sisterly rapport that is one of the group's prime attractions.