Black Choreographers Festival, SF

Written by:
Joanna G. Harris
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A Celebration

Black Choreographers Festival
Dance Mission Theater, San Francisco
Feb. 18-19, 2012

The Black Choreographers Festival goes on for three weekends each year during Black History Month at Laney College in Oakland and at the Dance Mission Theater in San Francisco.

This year I was able to see Program B, which began with a film, “The Black Dancing Body.” There are several films in that series. I believe (there was no specific title in the program) we saw “Black Spring” by Benoit Dervaux (France), with choreography by Heddy Maalem. This quote describes the film: “The dance is interspersed with scenes of contemporary life in Africa which … heighten awareness of the social and political sensitivities inherent in modern African dance.? Because the audience eagerly awaited live dance, the film was too long and not too clear.

The first choreographer/performer was Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, to the magic music of composer/musician Ajayi Lumumba Jackson. Her piece, “From the Depth of My Inner Sole,” was a streamlined set of tap routines, delightfully rhythmic and lively. It was fun to follow her golden shoes and watch Jackson’s musical lead.

Raissa Simpson, the artistic director of Push Dance Company, choreographed “Shoulder” for dancers Breton Tyner-Bryan and Olutola Afolayan. The duet for these two women demonstrated intense dependency on one another, leaning, rolling and touching, using a wide range of interwoven gestures. To this viewer, it needed more “choreographic” shaping and some editing. It’s hard to love dances that go on too long.

Camille A. Brown, choreographer/performer in “Evolution of a Secured Feminine” (2007) was “finding joy in the spontaneity of life and celebrating the limitless gift of being a woman.” The work had been premiered in September 2007 with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater (see video excerpt above). “Evolution” is a vaudeville act, using mime and dance movement to present “a witty and humorous portrayal in the midst of vacillating between uncertainty and carefree expression.” Brown was successful on both levels. She moves with speed and accuracy and uses face and body to delight and surprise the audience. Brava!

The most moving work on the program was a collaboration between Headmistress, Amara Tabor-Smith, Sherwood Chen and Pakito Lázaro. Danced by Tabor-Smith and Lázaro, the piece, entitled “Mapassa/ONE” is in two parts, “Night/Day” and “Deam time/Wake time,” and asks “does one exist without the other?” The dancers take their slow time to unwind from one another on the floor and for much of the dance, do not touch or focus on each other. Yet, they are bound by the reaching, folding and unfolding movement that carries great feeling. At the end, they return to the close entwining from which they began. It is a beautiful, moving work, accompanied by the brilliant score of composer/musician Ajayi Lumumba Jackson.

The festival closed with “Mah Wey,” choreographed by Naomi Diouf, a celebration of African costumes, drumming, dance and panorama that demonstrates human exuberance at its best.

Congratulations to Laura Elaine Ellis and Kendra Kimbrough Barnes for another great year, the eighth, of the Black Choreographers Festival.

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