By Walter Rutledge
Leyland Simmons presented An Afternoon of Contemporary Works on Saturday May 5; this informal dance concert took place at the Harlem School of the Arts.
The noontime fete debuted his company and offered four works by new and emerging dance makers and choreographers. The concert featured live music, which was a classic touch, and emphasizing the collaborative nature of dance.A large and supportive crowd was on hand, which included many young people from the school. This was a great opportunity to expose them to the wealth of performing talent Simmons had amassed for the showcase. The company consisted of four female and four male dancers including Simmons, who also was the master of ceremonies.
The program opened with a brief statement by Simmons, where he outlined the mission statement of the company. One objective was to combine elements of high fashion and dance, this brings to mind such famous collaborations as Martha Graham and Halston, Coco Chanel and the Ballet Russe, and Maurice Bejart and Gianni Versace to name a few. Although it is not a novel concept, it is one that always provides a visual charge for the fashion conscience balletomane.
The concert was held in the performance space in the school’s large open foyer and was free to the public. The space provided an up close and unfretted view of both the dancers and the choreography. The absence of lighting, backdrops, sets, and side exits and entrances were as revealing as seeing a model without make-up, still beautiful but unable to hide imperfections. In this setting the dancers faired better than the choreography.
Angel by Zach Ingram opened the program. Set to the music of Wideltez and Ennio Morricone it literally leaped out of the gate. The high-energy work exploded with turns, jumps, falls and high extensions, utilizing an amalgam of ballet, and modern styles. It also left dancers Jacqueline Harris nowhere to go. Despite this fact Harris performed with considerable control and presence. The second movement was an adagio displaying Harris’ ability to execute sustained (and less athletic) movement with developed gesture and more fluidity in the upper body.
Willy Laury’s Stripped was a quartet featuring Tre Smith, Jehbral Muhammad, Jolina Javier, and Taeler Cyrus. The flesh-colored toga tops and matching cut off tights were extremely complementary to both the dancers and the movement. The work was set almost entirely in unison. At first two male and female couples mirror each other, and then the unison was divided by gender, before returned to male/female.
Unison is one of the most overused choreographic devices especially by fledgling dance makers. It should be use sparingly. The dancers performed with military precision and remained an uniformed body. The few (very few) instances where the unison was interrupted were the most interesting and memorable passages.
At one point a cannon appeared for the first time breaking the monotony and one tone note of the dance, but it was so short-lived and we wondered if the dancers had simply made a mistake. The work ended in an interesting tableau, which thankfully was varied and incorporated level, and asymmetry. Unfortunately this was not enough to rescue this dance.
A Love Sonnet was a duet and solo inspired by Shakespeare’s sonnet seventeen. The work was choreographed by Ja’Malik and featured dancers Da’Von Doane and Na Talia Johnson. The program note explained this was an ode to a love lost too soon.
The opening movement was set to the music of Shubert’s Ava Maria, and was performed live by soprano Alison Buchanan and accompanied by pianist David Berry. The movement was oft-times combative and clashed with the melodic and reverence provided by Buchanan and Berry. It was punctuated throughout with a series of lifts, which were varied and bountiful.
The experience was similar to going to a restaurant and ordering two entrees. Everything was sumptuous just too much to digest at one time. In this instance less would have been more.
The second movement a solo for Doane was more palatable. This was set to the Donny Hathaway’s ballad For All We Know and was performed with a haunting quality by tenor Albert Lee with Berry accompanying on piano. In this section Doane had more opportunity to share his expressive side, but there were still moments where technique trumped artistry. This is where Ja’Malik should have trusted the intent and allowed Doane to experience the entire sensation of the moment including the resolution of a gesture and emotion.
There is a distinction between a dance maker and a choreographer. The latter has the ability to transcend mere steps and create a language communicated through movement and imagery. It is the difference between someone who can devise a tune and an individual who can successfully compose a symphony. Just about anyone can put steps together, but that is different from mastering the craft of choreography.
Choreographer Earl Mosley’s solo for Simmons entitled Take Five was the most complete work on the program. Mosley understood choreographic form, approaching the work with an economy and simplicity that produced clarity and structural continuity. The cleanly crafted work interjected humor and spontaneity, and expressed a musicality that complemented the score and performer. Set to Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, and accompanied by Saxophonist Darryl Yokley, drummer Steve Belvilus and pianist David Berry, it was performed with assuredness and great personality by Simmons.
In Photo: 1) Jacqueline Harris 2) Tre Smith, Jehbral Muhammad, Jolina Javier, and Taeler Cyrus 3) Da’Von Doane and Na Talia Johnson 4) Leyland Simmons
Sadiki Rouse Photographer