On Thursday June 23 the Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center presented the final program in the Thirty5-In-5 dance series at the Kumble Theater on the Brooklyn Campus of Long Island University. The finale consisted of six works by emerging and established choreographers. Each work was a testament to artistic diversity and individualism.
Balance Dance Company opened the program with two excerpts from A Women’s Heart. A trio for three women, Carmen Carrieker, Jasmine Poole, and Indie Bolds, performed with a combination of grace and Amazonian strength. Set to music by Stevie Wonder choreographer Obediah Wright used lyricism, strong counterpoint and unison to his best advantage. Make You Feel My Love; a solo performed by Michelle Smith also reflected the works overall esthetic, with lyric and reflective movement juxtaposed against strong technical and physically demanding steps.
The speeches of Malcolm X seem an unlikely score for dance, but in the ballet In Black and White his cadence and message were in perfect sync with the choreographer’s intent. The Nanette Bearden Contemporary Dance Theater presented this duet, an excerpt from Brothers, which explores the different relationships between men. This section examines the right of self-determination, and was performed with great intensity and technical proficiency by Greg Blackmon Jr. and Christopher Fishburn.
Philadelphia is only ninety miles from New York City, but the city has developed a strong dance community that is distinctly “Philly”. Since the breakout debut of Renee Harris and his hip- hop inspired choreography, dance companies have merged popular dance and concert movement/format creating exciting new works with street “cred”. Illstyle & Peace Productions performed IMpossible IZpossible the work had a concert/ theatrical approach and presentation, but retained the high energy and daredevil quality associated with the Hip-Hop genre. The acrobatic male partnering and tight isolated movement were performed with precision and incredible musicality.
Gus Solomons jr. has not created just a movement vocabulary, but has literally formulated a new language. In A Thin Frost Michael Blake and Dudley Williams join Solomons jr. onstage and the result is a light-hearted and thoroughly entertaining romp. This work was the most abstract by design, but Solomons jr.’s keen use of imagery endeared with the audience on a very human level.
The dancers were seated in a triangle facing the center of the stage. The audience was invited into a conversation that used movement and verbal utterances from the performers. The sound had a definite impact on the movement quality, the perception of the movement, and was the only musical accompaniment. A Thin Frost shows us the power and universality of abstraction.
I Run For Life set to the music of Melissa Etheridge can only be described as delightful. The solo, choreographed by George Faison and performed by Yusha- Marie Sorzano, was an uplifting anthem. Sorzano’s warm smile, fleet footed attack, and natural unlabored upper body was disarming; her élan made the choreography look deceptively easy. Faison used classic modern and ballet elements with a refreshing clean and unencumbered approach. The result was an invigorating solo that made you want to smile and dance along with Sorzano.
Choreographer Francesca Harper has developed an approach to dance that encompasses a broad spectrum. Sometimes theatrical, sometimes visceral, the works ranges from pure movement to avant-garde theatre. Instinct: 11/1 (the fifth commissioned work) is an ensemble work designed for seven women. The female cast was strong yet vulnerable, reacting to their environment and fellow dancers and producing a humanism that transcended sexuality, but did not negate it.
Harper used floor microphones to produce an eerie and echoed audio track. It was augmented with a pulsating score that complimented the movement and mood. The defused lighting, and sound gave the work an atmospheric quality, as if we were in a cave or large underground chamber and, in contrast, the mood at times was embryonic.
Instinct: 11/1 has strong design elements. Harper is a risk taker; she has chosen to explore elements of choreographed and improvisational expression in this work. In this case the audio created by the dancers extends the realm of the improvisational experience beyond the movement.
The series in many ways conjured the spirit of the Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center founder Larry Phillips and his predecessor Melvin Davis. It was a spirit of reuniting and sharing the best we have to offer. Alex Smith Jr. is to be commended for almost single handedly guiding the organization through rough times and bringing it back to a sound footing. Smith’s sixteen-year stewardship has nurtured an entirely new group of dance makers. Rodney Hurley and the Kumble Theater deserve a debt of gratitude for their on-going support of community based arts and artists.
Surprisingly not much has changed in thirty-five years, arts funding is still tenuous, and many arts organizations are one grant, or one box office from closing. Artists continue to be marginalized, because presenters assume there are no venues, audiences, or interest in art that reaches beyond mainstream convention. For thirty-five years the mission the Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center has been to present artists that test the boundaries, while showcasing the masterworks of established choreographers. The organization is not defined in black and white, but by the infinite number of hues it represents.
In Photo: 1) Logo 2) Balance Dance Company 2) Christopher Fisburn and Greg Blackmon Jr. 3) Greg Blackmon Jr. 4) Gus Solomons jr., Dudley Williams, Michael Blake 5&6) Yusha- Marie Sorzano 7&8) Francesca Harper
E. Lee White photographer www.leewhite.com
Video edited by Walter Rutledge with photos by Rodney Hurley, Cosmo Jack, E. Lee White