Editor’s Note: Reconnecting after a traumatic year of separation and loss is a work in progress. KERA and The morning news from Dallas are collaborating to document how the North Texas arts and culture scene is emerging from the pandemic. Jerome Weeks of KERA traveled to Massachusetts to follow the outdoor performances of a band from Dallas – making their debut at a major international dance festival.
Dallas Black Dance Theater opens its new season – its 45th – in spectacular fashion. The company is in Massachusetts this week, debuting at Jacob’s pillow. It was the famous 89-year-old dance festival that helped create modern American dance.
DBDT performed at the Kennedy Center. In 1996 and 2012, he represented Texas by dancing at the Olympics. But for Claude Alexander III, a member of the company, it is being invited to perform at Jacob’s Pillow that counts.
“This is a really huge step, a milestone in our history,” he said. “For any dance organization, this is one of the pillars you want to go to. So for us, it’s really like a goal achieved.
When the pandemic hit, Dallas Black Dance rushed to get performances and their entire school curriculum online, said Melissa Young, director of DBDT. In June 2020, the group posted a video of “The Long Wait” on his Facebook page, a performance honoring the deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr. and George Floyd and the struggle for social justice.
“So many dance companies have kind of taken two paths,” Young said. “One was’ We’re taking a moment to do nothing and we’re just going to rest. ‘And then there were those of us who said,’ No, this is our opportunity to see what’s possible. . ‘ As artistic director, I’m passionate about mental health, how are dancers going to cope? Because if they can’t move, if they can’t discover their art on a daily basis, it will decline. I wanted us to create some incredibly wild ways to keep doing the job at the highest level. ”
Alexander is a 12-year veteran of the troupe who is also a coach and choreographer. His work, Face what is in front of you, is her choreographic debut at Jacob’s Pillow. This puts him in serious company.
For the DBDT program, it will be played alongside Like water – a world premiere ordered from Darrell Grand Moultrie, who has created works for the American Ballet Theater, tap master Savion Glover, and Alvin Ailey, among many other prominent dance groups and artists.
Jacob’s pillow itself hasn’t seen an easy pandemic so far: last year, for the first time in its history, it canceled its entire 10-week summer festival. Then in November, a fire destroyed the Doris Duke Theater, his black-box performance hall, the smallest of three on the sprawling campus in the heavily forested hills of the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. The company is determined to rebuild the Duke, while currently renovating its main indoor facility, the Ted Shawn Theater.
The Berkshires are a popular neighborhood for New Yorkers and Bostonians on summer vacation: Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony, is a 20-minute drive from Jacob’s Pillow, while the Clark Art Institute, the Williamstown Theater Festival and Mass MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) are all nearby.
Founded by dancer Ted Shawn in 1921 as a summer retreat for his company of male dancers, Jacob’s Pillow has become an incubator for dance innovation, allowing choreographers to isolate themselves and create a restful outdoor environment. for creativity. It has hosted many pioneers of American dance, including Martha Graham, Bill T. Jones, Mark Morris and Merce Cunningham. In recent years, the festival has grown into a year-round program, comprising a school and extensive historical archives.
In fact, the 220-acre park is the only national historic monument devoted entirely to dance.
Longtime Pillow director Pamela Tatge was determined to return to outdoor shows this summer. She called Melissa Young to specifically invite the Dallas company Tatge first saw three years ago.
Young was surprised by the sudden offer. “I just cried,” she said. “I legitimately cried.”
She sees it as a reward for her company’s efforts to survive the pandemic – especially for quickly making the transition to streaming performance.
“You learn so much about yourself and your craft as you go through trials and tribulations,” Young said. “And so the pillow invitation was a reward for not giving up. And that it’s at the start of our 45th anniversary, that’s what really fills my heart.
DBDT presented a program to show off its range. It featured the company’s iconic coin Night race, choreographed by Christopher Huggins to music by French composer René Aubry; The dark epic of Claude Alexander III, Face what is in front of you; and the fleet at the feet of Darrell Grand Moultrie Like water, with new flamenco music by the Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela.
The first performance of Dallas Black Dance – the first of 10 this week at Jacob’s Pillow – on Wednesday received a standing ovation.
A version of this story by Jerome Weeks aired on KERA-FM (90.1) and also appears on KERA’s artandseek.org.