Strength boasts its own uninhibited beauty. Unadorned and uncluttered, the power of men, embracing, charging, bounding and springing, can captivate, even intoxicate, the eye. Saturday evening at Dance Place, Edgeworks Dance Theater displayed strength of body and spirit in "Fearless," an evening-length meditation on unshackling bonds -- physical, societal and emotional.
Since it debuted two years ago, Helanius J. Wilkins's company of four African American men has been busy producing, touring and creating contemporary dance works that explore the dynamic of living -- and dancing -- as black men in America today. Wilkins's "Fearless," commissioned by the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage and revised since its September premiere, is a sequel to his 2001 "Risk," which examined the vulnerability of black men.
Visual artist and sculptor Joyce Ellen Weinstein's set of hanging rope ladders adorned with jagged mirrored tiles, costume designer Michelle Rudolph's silky white tunics and pants, and composer Sven Abow's percussion, strings and synthesized piano amplified the drama and heightened the presence of the dancers, for Wilkins's choreography at times flags. The dancemaker favors lyrically athletic runs, full-bodied lifts and dives, and effortless springs from the floor. Sometimes fraught with tension, the men in pairs or trios spar, their arms slashing, fists clenched; one man grabs another's shoulders, the threat of confrontation close at hand. Then the full quartet encircles the space, their bodies swaying side to side.
The preacherly bass voice and lyrical poetry of spoken-word artist John S. Murillo adds definition and context to "Fearless" when the dancers' intensity wanes. Murillo's resounding presence and his poem "Shackles," based on the 23rd Psalm, ground a work that otherwise could easily slip into the realm of navel-gazing.
"Fearless" ultimately attains its measure of serendipity for the four dancers -- Wilkins, James Frazier, Reggie Glass and Boris Willis -- when they grasp those ladders. While this journey of ascent was fruitful, Wilkins could have sought a more direct and focused path.
The program will be repeated Thursday.
of the Edgeworks Dance Theater ultimately rise above the material.