Black Dance Festival stretches bounds of expressiveness – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Friday, November 4, 2011

After a year of planning, the August Wilson Center unfurls its Black Dance Festival this weekend. It is the kind of the programming that could easily become a tradition.

“It was really difficult to choose the companies because there are so many out there,” says Greer Reed, who is artistic director of the center’s dance ensemble. “It was an amazing experience putting together a whole weekend celebrating dance rooted in the black experience.”

The August Wilson Center will present a two-part Black Dance Festival Friday through Sunday at its home in the Cultural District, Downtown.

Part I, Friday and Saturday afternoon, will feature Rennie Harris Puremovement, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble.

Part II, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon will feature Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, Ailey II and the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble.

The roster of groups ranges from the iconic Alvin Ailey to Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, which will be making its Pittsburgh debut.

Ailey’s work will be “Revelations,” which the late choreographer created in 1960 and will be performed by the 12 dancers of Ailey II. It illuminates the history of the black experience in America, performed to blues and spirituals.

Reed says she’s proud to introduce Kevin Iega Jeff’s Deeply Rooted Dance Theater because it’s “a hidden gem kind of company.”

Jeff, 52, says he re-imagines dance through a lens of the African diaspora with dancers trained in classical, modern and ballet. “It’s a blending of different forms, definitely modern, using the vocabularies the company is trained to express. What becomes the script is the music and the feeling I want to express through music.”

His Chicago-based company will perform two works, including the duet “Wild is the Wind,” the title of a mid-’60s song and album by Nina Simone.

“I love the music. It was a point of inspiration when I was a younger man,” Jeff says. “I was awed by Nina Simone’s piano, so lush and her voice is so rich. It was spellbinding. I was in my early 20s and didn’t feel mature enough. I didn’t know at the time she was singing and playing the piano simultaneously. I assumed because of the intricacy of the piano that she was being accompanied.”

Jeff finally was ready to choreograph Simone’s music in 2009, as a part of his longer work “Touch.” “It’s about deeply impassioned love, but it doesn’t come without complications. This duet explores that in terms of my own feelings and my own personal experiences, not in a literal way but in a life-experiential way,” he says.

The variety of programming includes non-narrative dance, such as “Regality” by Darrell Grand Moultire, which the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble will perform.

“It’s primarily for the joy of dance, the many dynamics of dance and the individual dancer,” Reed says. “But they’re so great when they come together as an ensemble.”

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