Sunday, May 20, 2012
Visiting company in Dallas dances to the words of Barack Obama: Does it work?
It's loaded material.
At the Wyly Theatre in the AT&T Performing Arts Center, Jamal Gaines and Creative Outlook of Brooklyn -- invited to Dallas by the Dallas Black Dance Theatre -- performed solely to the words of President Barack Obama, compiled from various speeches from his first term in office. Does it work?
It's difficult to know what to expect when attending a production that is culturally centric. There is often a concern from those on the outside about accessibility. Defying this knee-jerk assumption, the group developed a series of powerfully visceral routines that speak in universally human terms.
The choreography bravely allowed dancers to exhibit the exacting grace of ballet, but with a unique strength that provokes emotion rather than drawing it out. In routines such as the compelling Testosterone, we were aware of how light the dancers were and saw the uncannily delicate nature of their motion. And yet, they moved with an unaccounted heft that added weight to the message of the piece.
The headline piece was Gaines’ Prize. In it, the speeches of Obama were set to music and dance. The track was reminiscent of "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)," released in 1999, by Baz Luhrmann. The defining difference in this particular spoken-word mix was the natural cadence of the president's voice while delivering his famously uplifting speeches, specifically during his "Yes we can" years. The president spoke in measured, reverential beats that easily fit into music.
It should come as no surprise this music was especially useful to Gaines' choreography. With the music comes the message, and he needed only to set that message in motion through his performers. Gaines succeeded by letting the speeches communicate the message while letting dance highlight tone and emotion. There are none of the mimed reproduction of themes one might expect or dread. Even when the music stopped, and the only sound was the words of the president and the shuffle of the dancers, the soul of the piece retained its force. The choreography remained secondary to the words.
The only complaint is that the production was unfortunately front-loaded. Powerful, elemental expressions led to a finale that feel like jazz noodling in comparison. Costumes that highlighted the raw nature, power, and sensuality of the performers were discarded for button-down shirts and khaki pants. While it was a talented display of jazz ballet, the tonal shift seemed strange to end a night's performance.
The Spring Celebration Series is an intense, powerful work of bravado and grace. Its originality and impressive performances demanded the attention of any audience.
I wouldn’t miss it if I were you.
Pegasus News Content partner - The Assignment Desk, DFW
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