On Stage: Dynamic Women

It’s nice when a dance company and an audience are in the honeymoon phase, that time when everything is full of possibilities. August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble is in that position, and rightly so.

It is an engaging group, with an energy that bounces off the back wall. There is a diversity in shape and size and color, which makes it interesting, yet that all blends with a shared sense of purpose and discipline.

A good part of AWCDE’s early success has come through the wise guidance of artistic director Greer Reed. She has demanded plenty from her dancers, but on the other hand, has nurtured them. But she has demanded more from herself as her company just begins its journey. And certainly one of her best achievements has been to assemble an enviable contemporary repertory from the ground up.

Now in its third year — the norm for a dance company’s maturation in the past has been 25 years  — AWCDE is also educating its audience. So much of that repertory has to have a real connection with the audience while also challenging them.

Certainly last year’s Dynamic Men of Dance set the bar high. With Kyle Abraham, Darrell Grand Moultrie and Antonio Brown, it was an exciting program ready to tour from the get-go and produced a couple of heavy hitters in the ensemble numbers from the first two.

This year’s Dynamic Women of Dance was more intriguing because women choreographers are so rare, and to see a quartet of them assembled on this program was an achievement in itself.

The program ranged far and wide, beginning with an improvisatorial love poem for Whitney Houston. I saw the lovely Kendra Dennard in this solo, along with spoken word artist Vanessa German, who is always a welcome addition for her illuminating thoughts.

It set the tone for the first half, which aimed to meet the audience on common ground. Kiesha Lalama created Torque, a piece for the seven-member ensemble. Always a choreographer with a clarity of vision, Kiesha’s latest work had a new openness and flow to it, while keeping to traditional dance values. Kim Bears-Bailey followed with Relations, more in the Alvin Ailey mode and set, like the iconic choreographer did, to music by Donny Hathaway. But it didn’t shed more light on his iconic style.

The second half hearkened the future of the ensemble. New York choreographer Sidra Bell, who is becoming quite familiar on the Pittsburgh dance scene, was, however, rather obscure in When We Get to the Other Side I Will Kiss You, a communal piece where the costumes wore unisex costumes as they explored the bare August Wilson Center stage.

It began with clutching and gasping and jittery shoulders, before setting out to climb the back wall and other nether regions of AWC. Eventually there was some sense of gathering certainly a piqued interest in what would happen. But in the end, there wasn’t enough dramatic effect to really connect with her sense of purpose. Nonetheless, her choreography, which digs deep into the improvisational capabilities of the individual dancers, could be instrumental in the development of the company.

Camille A. Brown capped the evening in high style, with excerpts garnered from a traditional New Orleans brass band parade that signals “weddings, social events, and most notably, funerals.” Inspired by the “second line” people who joyfully follow the band, it was titled New Second Line.

Full of dense rhythmic phrases, this infectious piece duly captured that hallowed spirit in the face of tragedy. Yes life, as well as the dance, must go on.

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