Performing Arts: Dance
November 16, 2019
Paul Taylor and Donald McKayle’s friendship spanned over half a century, and both have recently passed away. So it was moving to see the Taylor company celebrate McKayle in a full evening by inviting three other dance troupes to perform some of his iconic dances. The evening began with McKayle’s best-known work, Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder(1959), performed by the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company.

A signature work of DCDC since they began dancing it in 1987, what was striking about this performance was the high intensity and polish of the dancers, who gave it their all, but whose interpretation seemed slightly at odds with the content: a group of men in a prison chain gang, who are down and out, abused, but still have the strength and hope to long for freedom.

Countess V. Winfrey appeared in different guises as Sweetheart, Mother, and Wife, bringing to life an optimism (and some sexiness) in the mens’ imagination. This cast was big, beautiful, strong, flexible and passionate. But the sheer technical force of their dancing felt almost celebratory, rather than also speaking to the pathos and pain that might have emanated from the original.

The Juilliard School Dance Division dancers performed Crossing the Rubicon: Passing the Point of No Return, a work McKayle created in 2017 for his UCI Etude Ensemble, another student group. A work about the plight of refugees, the choreography was heavy on unison movement and long diagonals. The Juilliard dancers, costumed in Indian and middle eastern inflected garb (by Connie Strayer after Kathryn Wilson) lacked urgency in their movement.

Naya Loveli and Alexander Sargent stood out in their duet, a lovely expression of bonding together in the midst of a crisis. The lighting by Kenneth Keith shifted from white shafts of light in the backdrop to a warm, yellow beam that seemed to weave in the threat of global warming to the refugee crisis.

The evening closed with Ronald K. Brown/Evidence dancers in McKayle’s Songs of the Disinherited from 1972. If you are mostly familiar with Ailey’s Revelations as the iconic dance expression of the black diasporic experience, Songs is an energizing and different alternative, also imbued with the both the pain and the joyous feeling of black spiritual life. Annique Roberts gave a proud rendition of "Angelitos Negros," a song with lyrics by Andres Eloy Blanco that questions why angels aren’t ever depicted as black.

With flamenco flair, Roberts moved from modern dance expressions of pain to defiance with a convincing assurance. And in "Shaker Life," the Evidence dancers gave their all, in a powerful and impressive unison ending, with everyone hopping into an extended extreme layout with the leg high in the air, while changing directions, a fierce finale for a memorable celebration of a modern dance master.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson

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