'Dynamic Women of Dance' dazzle at August Wilson Center

Dance Review

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"Dynamic Women of Dance," the latest main stage offering from the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, lived up to its name this weekend at its resident theater, Downtown.

Aside from boasting a program by all female choreographers (Kim Bears-Bailey, Sidra Bell, Camille A. Brown and Kiesha Lalama), the evening was dynamic and diverse, thanks to the breadth of styles and emotions it tapped and challenged the ensemble to bring to life.

It opened with a "love poem" to music powerhouse Whitney Houston by spoken word artist Vanessa German. At the Friday performance, as Ms. German belted with great gusto descriptions of the late singer's talents and the envy her beauty and voice stirred in other African-American girls, ensemble member Naila Ansari interpreted her words into lyrical movement. It was short and simple -- just a bare, black stage with a pool of light for each artist -- but moving. (Ms. German later returned with a poem about the power of dance.)

The first full ensemble piece was Ms. Lalama's "Torque." It opened with slow fluid lunges, deep plies and torso undulations and grew more aggressive until the stage erupted with jubilation and light from seven bulbs -- one for each dancer -- strung from the ceiling. It read as a commentary on the intersection of people's lives, the pressure of keeping up with society's demands and the beauty life holds when one takes time to look up and notice it.

"Relations" by Ms. Bears-Bailey delved into the complexity of the ties people share. "Section I: Conversation Unfinished" was a lyrical exploration of partners on the verge of separation. Choreography touched on a range of relationships, from more sensual partnering to simpler friendly embraces. Raymond Ejiofor and Annalee Traylor were convincing on Friday as the parting couple but could have milked even more time and emotion from some steps. (If two people may never meet again, they'd want to extend every breath of every touch.) "Section II: In the Shadow of Who" was the piece's bluesy, edgier other half, perhaps about a love triangle or maybe the common barriers that can stop relationships from flourishing.

Ms. Bell's "When We Get to the Other Side I Will Kiss You" was by far the most abstract and urban piece on the program. The naked stage was dancers' obstacle course as they navigated its exposed beams, hazy rays of red and white light and, sometimes, just each other.

The ensemble capped the night with excerpts from Ms. Brown's "New Second Line," a nod to the resilience of the people of New Orleans. It packed all the personality of the Big Easy -- highlighted with projections of street scenes -- and the dancers exuded infectious joy.

After curtain call -- and a standing ovation -- it was clear founding artistic director Greer Reed had accomplished at least two things: spotlighting the dance world's sometimes undersung female contributors and why her budding company is worth keeping tabs on.

Sara Bauknecht: sbauknecht@post-gazette.com .


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