South Dallas Dance Festival 2014 | Indique Dance Company | South Dallas Cultural Center

Leeward and Onward

The Friday performances at the 2014 South Dallas Dance Festival offered an engaging mix of styles and themes by  published Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Jamie Thompson, who was not on the Friday program, performed at the South Dallas Dance Festival

Dallas — Like wild mushrooms sprouting from fall rain, the Fourteenth Annual South Dance Festival, presented by Beckles Dancing Company at the South Dallas Cultural Center,overflowed with a bounty of dances: some charming, some odd, some mysterious. Called “Leeward,” the program Friday night offered 12 dances ranging from modern to Indian with a bit of ballet, jazz and African thrown in. (The program continued over the weekend with different works.)The charm came from two sources: young dancers with bright eyes and winning smiles and the three ethnic dances. In Indique Dance Company’s Growing Together and Shakti Steps, dark eyes flash and every gesture and facial expression registers a different emotion. In Dallas Youth Repertory Project’s African-inspired Ekon Kon, the young dancers’ high spirits had the audience clapping in unison and smiling like proud parents.

The contrast in expressiveness could not have been more telling than in the contemporary western works. Whether it was Muscle Memory Dance Theatre’s troubled Left I Stand, Right I Yield, A Dance Collective’s Obscured. Submerged. Forgotten., or Beckles Dancing Company’s highly calibrated Ryke and Pauline, dancers gaze at the floor, at each other, into space, but seldom at the audience. Modern dance tends to be cerebral and yet emotionally intense.

Even the lovely Prelude, set to a Chopin prelude—with its lofty leaps and rapturous turns, as performed by Dallas Black Dance Academy Allegro Performance Ensemble— was more fervent than joyful. Even so, the movement was so swift and fluid that the dance suggested nymphs cavorting in the woods, pausing occasionally for long sustained arabesques.

The exception to seriousness came in Dallas Youth Repertory Project’s saucyWhen I am Small and Ella Lois Hudson Ensemble’s Off Limits. In the first, two spunky teenagers toss their hair, prance with hips thrust out, and look like they own the place. In the second, nine dancers in red party dress strut their stuff, full of attitude.

It would be interesting to see how Ryke and Pauline might develop, as both dances were described as “works in progress.” They both showed choreographer Loris Beckles’ signature style: random spacing, geometric patterns, detached expressions and clarity.  Ryke was something of an oddball, featuring six women in crazy-colored leggings. The leader stays at a distance from the others, who line up neatly before moving like caterpillars. Intensifying the sense of detachment is Steve Reich’s repetitive music. Out of nowhere, a hooded figure in gray creeps through the ranks and disappears. The others hardly notice. The dance abruptly stops at this point, making us wonder where it is headed.

Pauline, set to the jazzy music of Don Pullin, was fluid and formal, with five women in long flowing skirts that fluttered in the wind. Even movement was isolated for clarity, whether it was kicks, leaps or long arabesques.  Changes in direction were swift. Lines turned to circles, circles flared out, and then, at the end, the circle tightened into a small mass. Formality has its own drama. 

» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine,The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.