Black Choreographers Festival SF

Written by:
Michael Wade Simpson
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Black Choreographers Festival: Here and Now 2010

Black Choreographer's Festival, SF

February 19-21, 2010 8 PM
Dance Mission Theater  3316 24th Street ,  San Francisco

Kendra Kimbrough Barnes and Laura Elaine Ellis have produced six years  
of Black Choreographers Festivals.  This year, in addition to the  
performances at Dance Mission Theater, the Festival offers classes for  
young people and a Next Wave Choreographers Showcase, February 26-28,  
as well as film showings. Their devotion and care in bringing artists,  
old and new, to diverse audiences deserves constant praise and  

The show on February 19 offered an abundance, often an overabundance  
of riches. Opening with Chloe Arnold’s tap-talk, “Phenomenal  
Woman” (words by Maya Angelou) and closing with “Anba Dio” a “Neo-
folkloric” mourning ritual choreographed by Adia Tamar Whitaker, the  
evening demonstrated the wide range of approaches to both tradition  
and invention taken by Bay Area
Black choreographers. It was all fascinating and alas, too much, too  

For this viewer, the important works were by the women; Deborah  
Vaughan, Rosangela Silvestre, Kendra Kimbrough Barnes and Adia Tamar  
Whitaker.  Vaughan’s piece, “Resilience” and excerpt from “Mudizimu”  
2003, (restaged 2009) is a collaboration among American, Cuban and  
Zimbabwe artists as well as dancers from Vaughan’s Oakland based  
Dimensions Dance Theater. The sequence of group, solos, and duets  
offered very satisfying dynamics and a wide range of jumps and  
footwork recalling African roots.  Outstanding artists were Latanya  
d.Tigner, Laura Elaine Ellis and the four drummers.

“Oya, ” choreographed by Rosangela Silvestre, restaged by Barnes, was  
an extensive series of events,  engaging women first as warriors who  
then seemingly emerge as priestesses. The movement is full bodied and  
exciting, consisting of large locomotor patterns accompanied by  
multiple torso twists and varied free arm gestures. Barnes herself  
danced a queenly-goddess role. “Oya” was  beautifully accompanied by  
musician Taji Maalik and vocalist Delina Patrice Brooks.

The mourning ritual, “Anba Dio” (2009) was staged with the performers  
seated in chairs all playing ‘shaking’ instruments, called Shekere,  
Their sound and the dancers movement,  rising and falling, from  
sitting to standing, built an intense emotional drama. Whitaker and  
Sonia Whittle were the effective vocalists of Whitakers’ script.

“Safety of Abstraction,” choreographed and performed by Robert Henry  
Johnson and his company, proved disappointing, although it had some  
good dancing within its episodes.  The work concerned the slave trade  
and Johnson talked his text “Yam” and “Antelope Boy” and well as  
“Slave Ship,” lyrics by Reg E. Galines. The stage was littered with  
cups and saucers, seemingly to mock the European custom of tea  
drinking, but there was little continuity from one part to another and  
final no real impact, despite the seriousness of the subject matter.  
Johnson might talk less and provide more extended dance sequences. Byb  
Chanel Bibene was the strong, outstanding male dancer.

Also ineffective, alas, despite good intentions, was Reginald Ray-
Savage’s attempt to choreograph “Agon,”, a Stravinsky work well known  
to dance audiences through Balanchine’s 1957 production and often seen  
here at the San Francisco Ballet. Ray-Savage’s dance vocabulary is  
modern ballet-jazz, and though Stravinsky’s music has complex rhythms,  
his vocabulary did not suit. Each short section of “Agon” is a  
different dance form; yet Ray-Savage hardly differentiated the moves  
from one part to another.  Although the dancers did what they do well,  
(especially the women) it was difficult to honor their efforts,  
especially since Ray-Savage cut the music to fit his solos and duets.  
This work needs more care and the performers, Alison Hurley, Damon  
Mahoney, Jarrod Mayo, Genna Beattie and Mellisa Schumann, as well as  
Mr. Savage,  need more help understanding “Agon.”

Raissa Simpson’s brief work “Judgments in Milliseconds”(2008) was a  
slight effort at being charming.  Simpson might rework her performance  
to give us more ‘oomph.’ A program such as “Here and Now” deserves the  

Technical credit for the Black Choreographers Festival go to: Harry  
Rubeck, Lighting; Andy Keefer, Audio; Nkkole Lewis, stage manager, and  
Charles Kimbrough Jr, Jayson Griffith, crew. They deserve applause for  
a smooth show.

Joanna Harris

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