First Black Dance Festival was amazing

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Dance Review
Monday, November 07, 2011
By Jane Vranish, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

For nearly 40 years the Pittsburgh Dance Council strived to show diversity in dance and, toward that goal, presented an array of black companies among its global offerings. Now the August Wilson Center, a newbie on the Pittsburgh presenting front, is taking over that dance niche and flexed some artistic muscle during its first Black Dance Festival this past weekend.

Eduardo Patino - Ailey II performs "Revelations." at the August Wilson Center.
Eduardo Patino - Ailey II performs "Revelations." at the August Wilson Center.

At PDC, we saw Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, acknowledged as the most popular company in the world; Rennie Harris Puremovement, a harbinger of hip-hop in concert dance; and Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, which had its own brand of energetic Ailey-esque movement.

But when you saw those companies — with Ailey represented here by Ailey II, in the hothouse atmosphere of the festival along with Chicago’s Deeply Rooted and the fresh-faced August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, their works rubbing virtually shoulder to shoulder — it took the concept of diversity to a whole new level.

The event, with two complete programs and four performances, was a real success for the burgeoning center — the vibe electric, houses almost filled, audiences happy.

In this format, the festival worked on a lot of levels, although there was just a sampling of each company’s true power. So the sum was greater than the individual parts. But that sum included a remarkable historic range, nattily curated among just these five groups.

Certainly Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations,” with its uplifting display of faith and hope, may be the most beloved “serious” modern dance masterwork to have ever been created (and over 50 years old). A training ground for its parent company, Ailey II came close to equaling the power of the many casts Pittsburgh has seen over the years. Surely a good number of these dancers will eventually filter into the main group.

DCDC demonstrated its forthright intensity in “The Story Unfolds,” where a quartet of women played on high emotions layered over a strong technique. Then it turned to a duet “Unresolved,” which played with the ebb and flow of two lovers in a difficult relationship.

Deeply Rooted used a dramatic underpinning to drive its works, which also included a sweeping duet to Nina Simone, “Wild is the Wind.” But it set itself apart with the more introspective “Ferrotype Excerpt: Tieftraeh,” which captured moments in images of early 20th century “plain folk.”

It’s hard to believe that Puremovement will be celebrating 20 years soon and is now regarded as the American ambassador of hip-hop.

Former Post-Gazette dance critic Jane Vranish can be reached at jvranish1@comcast.net.