Preview: Black Dance Festival spreads its wings

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In its first outing, the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble's Black Dance Festival treated audiences to a mix of esteemed groups from across the East and Midwest, steeped in preserving the African-American dance tradition.

"I felt it was an amazing opportunity to have all of those companies," said founding artistic director Greer Reed.

This weekend, the festival returns to the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Downtown, with a fresh offering of guest companies and some new community components.

"We're spreading our wings a little bit more," Ms. Reed said.

The ensemble is beefing up festivities with master classes and lectures featuring visiting and local artists.

Black Dance Festival

Where: August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, Downtown.

When: Performances 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 6 p.m. Sunday. Master classes 12:30-2 p.m. today through Friday, lectures 2-2:30 p.m. A free public panel discussion 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Tickets: Performances $25; $40 pass provides admission to all three master classes and lectures and one performance. 412-456-6666 or www.augustwilsoncenter.org

"I think the weekend last year went extremely fast," Ms. Reed said. "There was nothing like an appetizer prior to the weekend, and a lot of the feedback was, 'Wow, I wish I had gotten a chance to talk to the choreographers more.' "

Public classes will run 12:30 to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, with discussion sessions following until 2:30 p.m. Prior to the first performance Friday, a free panel discussion on the future of black dance will be held at 6:30 p.m.

The performance portion of the festival kicks off at 8 p.m. Friday. The night will feature the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble and New York-based Camille A. Brown & Dancers reviving its work "Mr. TOL E. RAncE," which premiered last month at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty. Ms. Brown's choreography also was included last spring in the August Wilson Center's "Dynamic Women of Dance" series.

The Saturday matinee will be devoted to emerging artists from Cleveland, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. At night, the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble and Ms. Brown's company will once again take the stage.

Everything will wrap up Sunday with performances at 2 and 6 p.m. by the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble and Philadanco. Throughout the weekend, talk-back sessions with artists will follow the shows.

"I think that all of the ensembles right now in the city are amazing and everyone has a very unique, special voice," Ms. Reed said.

"The August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble ... is rooted in black dance tradition. We are the only [local] company right now rooted in that. I just think it's an amazing dance style that deserves to be celebrated whenever it can be."

theater

Sara Bauknecht: sbauknecht@post-gazette.com.


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