A relevant depiction of triumph over persecution, a world premiere from one of the country’s most prolific choreographers and an Afrocentric celebration of perseverance all provide the alluring framework of Dayton Contemporary Dance Company’s next presentation.
The company’s “Vantage Points: A Read Between the Lines” shows Saturday, March 4 and Sunday, March 5 at the Victoria Theatre.
As the title suggests, “Vantage Points” spotlights many artistic perspectives from the implementation of choreography to the striking themes explored within its three routines. Organizers desired to give the audience deeper insight into the creative process in order to produce an enriching and emotional experience.
“We want the audience to have an opportunity to hear directly from the choreographers in a specific way, particularly their vantage point on their work whether in the way they created it or how they feel about the work at this point in their careers,” said DCDC Artistic Director Debbie Blunden-Diggs. “We’re going to give the audience a closer look at each piece instead of just (executing) the concert (in the style of) lights, camera, action. We’re also excited to return to the Victoria Theatre which gives the intimacy that lends itself well to our repertory.”
DCDC is particularly thrilled to reprise their acclaimed performance of Donald McKayle’s “Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder,” a riveting account of life on a chain gang created by Donald McKayle in 1959.
The company drew national attention when it performed the work March 23, 2016, at New York’s David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. DCDC’s dancers were guest artists performing with Paul Taylor American Dance Theater and received notable coaching in rehearsals by the 86-year-old McKayle. In addition to receiving a five-minute standing ovation and extra curtain calls following their presentation, DCDC was awarded the 2016 Bessie Award for Outstanding Revised Work. The citation specifically credited the troupe for “giving a classic modern dance powerful new life, transforming the midcentury portrayal of an African-American prison chain gang into a searingly resonant cry for our current times, performed with humanity, craft and beauty.”
“‘Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder’ was choreographed in 1959 but feels as if it was created yesterday because the subject matter still hauntingly resonates, especially considering black men in prison in our society,” Blunden-Diggs said. “The piece deals with men on a chain gang in the Deep South and the resolve it takes for them to get through a day. In the midst of their situation the men have fleeting memories of women who have appeared in their lives from sweethearts to mothers to wives.
“When someone creates work one never knows what the life of the work will be, but this work has been poignantly beautiful over the years. I’m glad our Dayton audience will have a chance to see this piece. People still view New York as the measuring stick for great dance and we’re pleased to have been honored.”
In addition, the concert features a brand new piece by renown choreographer Ray Mercer (currently in his 14th year as a cast member of Broadway’s “The Lion King”) as well as the return of Stafford C. Berry, Jr.’s 2012 work “Wawa Aba.”
“Ray is a wonderful choreographer who incredibly uses music and sound for the landscape of his work,” Blunden-Diggs noted. “He has created an ensemble piece and it’s been great to see his magic at work. It’s an ultra-athletic work toying with the idea of how movement meets the mind’s eye and how that translates through the bodies of our dancers. It’s always exciting to present original work to our audience. Stafford’s piece, ‘Wawa Aba,’ has been a wonderful addition to our repertory. It shows our dancers actually moving in the African esthetic. We’ve also traveled the piece and it’s been a hit with audiences across the nation, especially at historically black colleges and universities.”
“Vantage Points” was conceived last year, but organizers are aware of the production’s timeliness and significance in the wake of current political and societal discord. If the concert can bring attention and discussion to the importance of valuing everyone’s common humanity perhaps it will lead toward connection and healing for Dayton and beyond.
“When the audience watches the three works we’ll be presenting, they will see that the body, movement, is a way to understand and celebrate art that enhances life and life experiences in a certain way,” said DCDC Chief Executive Officer Ro Nita Hawes-Saunders.
“Black lives matter. Black lives have always mattered. All lives matter. The work of the world-renown Dayton Contemporary Dance Company represents togetherness and understanding. We are endeavoring to carve out our place in American society, American history, that reminds people of who we are, what we are, and the whole fullness of the human spirit. ‘Vantage Points’ will really bring out the forces of energy, renewal and purpose.”