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Joanna G. Harris
Performance Reviews
multiple locations

2014 Black Choreographers Festival offers up Variety, Concern and Celebration

by Joanna G. Harris
February 28, 2014
Laney College Theater
900 Fallon Street
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 834-5740
Joanna G. Harris
Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
For its 10th anniversary season, the Black Choreographers Festival has extended into new dimensions. Under the leadership of Kendra Kimbrough Barnes and Laura Ellis, this performance included a dramatic work by Joanna Haigood, a ballet-jazz dance by Gregory Dawson, Barnes' historical dance-drama, "Clearance: Linking our Passage," and a Haitian celebration by the Rara Tou Limen Haitian Dance Company. What a show!

For this reviewer, Haigood's work "Dying While Black and Brown," was the most sophisticated and well executed. Using an enclosed set piece by Wayne Campbell, four men in prison garb, climbed, swung and fell within the structure. Later the garb changed to street clothes, and although similar tensions evolved (one man 'flipped' out), and fights ensued, it was clear that in or out of prison, these men were caught and bound.
It was less a dance work than a dramatic portrayal of a contemporary enigma. The performers were James Antoine Hunter, Rashad Pridgen, Travis Santell Rowland and Matthew Wickett. The powerful score was by Marcus Shelby.

Barnes' work "Clearance" also dramatized the African-American experience. In this instance, people from the south traveled to the north with well documented hardships. It was a work-in-progress, using a large cast that was to be completed in the fall of 2014.

The most complimentary remark I can give about Gregory Dawson's "Birdseye view", is that he enlisted a fine jazz ensemble, the Richard Howell Quintet for its musical accompaniment. His six dancers, Isaiah Bindel, Jordan Drew, Ilaria Guerra, Byron Roman, Oliver Shock and Jessica Wagner, employed a dance vocabulary familiar in the Bay Area from Alonzo King LINES ballet, that was a ballet, modern, jazz, hip-hop, gymnastics mix and came as a continual barrage of wiggles, flops and falls punctuated by multiple jump turns and pirouettes. It was all delightfully entertaining if you like TV dance, but after 50 minutes, watching each dance take a 'jazz-riff,' the audiences' restlessness was apparent. I believe it Doris Humphrey that said: "All dances are too long!". This one certainly was.

Portsha Jefferson's lively celebration "Nasyon Dechennen!" (furious nation), portrayed various tragic incidents experienced by native Haitians such as kidnapping and repression yet contained exciting, colorful and lively
bouncing, turning and jumping revelry. It too, like other works on the program could have used editing, but all in all, it left the Festival audience in an upbeat mood.

Photo © & courtesy of Kimara Dixon

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