If the goal of choreographer Shawn Short’s MFA thesis was to showcase Washington’s finest semi-pro dancers in a bizarrely varied recital, then give the guy an A. “I can get my degree now!” said a gleeful Short, who is soon to receive his diploma from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, speaking before a full theater at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on Saturday night. “But I’ll still have to pay off my loans.”
And he still has some learning to do when it comes to putting on professional-caliber performances. The two-hour, 11-work show was marred by long, awkward pauses, technical troubles and jarring transitions from one work to the next. You name it, his dancers did it: Ballet! Hip-hop! Traditional African! Melodramatic modern solos! There was no telling what was coming onstage each time the lights came up, but by golly, the dancers Short has working for him are good. The performances weren’t perfect, but it appeared that lack of preparation time for an overcrowded program was the problem, not lack of talent.
Short founded his troupe, Dissonance Dance Theatre, in 2007, and prides himself on running “the only black-managed classical dance company” around. The program included several ensemble pieces that were heavy on balletic footwork combinations, jumps and lifts, but the strongest works were stylistic fusions. The show opened with “Lockdown,” a locker-room style brawl that had four guys with track-star bodies leap off benches and toss one another around. A pair would tussle, and then one guy would lean forward and push another to the floor with a perfect arabesque penchee.
“Lockdown” was by choreographer Torens Johnson. Most of the other works were Short’s, and the most promising was “Amazon,” a piece for four young sirens in red, set to music by the Kodo percussion ensemble. The movement vocabulary was an alluring mix of ballet and African, with sideways leaps and fierce footwork that had the dancers alternate between going up on their toes and rocking back on their heels.
When the guys and girls worked together, the results looked a bit like barefoot Balanchine-light. In “Scars on My Memory,” Rachael Bade had a gorgeous sequence of light turns that she nailed like a professional ballerina (she is actually a professional reporter for Politico), and the men all proved they could be solid partners. If these dancers have time on their hands, other choreographers would do well to hire them. If not, we’ll wait and see what the post-graduate Short does next.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.