‘Emerge’ at Howard University

Watching the annual student spring dance concert last night at Howard University, I was taken aback from the get-go. What I saw was so impressive in conception and execution, so powerful in its impact, and so beautiful in each detail that I nearly forgot this was academia. Emerge had me believing I was beholding professional contemporary dance at its very best.

The program consisted of seven pieces, and the choreography throughout was breathtaking in its invention and strength. The first, choreographed by Assante Konte, was titled “African Suite – Djinafoly & Dumba.” It featured three drummers pounding propulsively stage left (one of them a boy who looked to be five) and a troupe of nine female dancers in headdresses and glittering gold and one male in a regal robe, all of whom kept moving to a beat with such intensity that it felt like we were at the big finale, not the start of the show.

Assane Konte, Choreographer. Photo by Justin D. Knight.
Assane Konte, Choreographer. Photo by Justin D. Knight.

The second piece, choreographed by Maverick Lemons, was “Communities Together Rise,” an eloquent evocation of its theme performed by an ensemble of nine wearing hues in patchwork palette.

Maverick Lemons, Choreographer. Photo by Justin D. Knight.
Maverick Lemons, Choreographer. Photo by Justin D. Knight.

For me the most dramatic offering of the evening was “Is the Writing on the Wall?,” choreographed by Ray Mercer, which closed out the first half of the program. A plain black wall up stage was danced around, against, and over by an ensemble of six to a music track based on Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” Gradually the black wall was filled in by chalk markings—first the word JUSTICE, eventually a huge drawing of a dove, chalk dust filling the air with each furious scrawl. I cannot say what the piece “meant,” only that it was riveting and moving and more thrilling than I thought dance could be.

The strength of the choreography was matched toe to toe by the strength of the dancers. Dancers are always strong, of course; they have to be—except that in mainstream George Ballanchine Ballerina Land white female dancers are portrayed as delicate dolls. Not here at Howard, no way. These dancers were sturdy, muscular athletic artists, and watching them move singly and unitedly with power and purpose, deftly halting still then surging on, was an exhilaration that kept electrifying.

“Keuchen,” choreographed by Royce Zackery, started the second half of the program on quieter note—following the nonstop exuberance of the first half.  An intricately interconnected trio—Yasmeen Enahora, Paris Jones, Sydnee Carroll—performed in sinuous synchronicity. They were wearing toe shoes but they were not on point at first…

L to R - Yasmeen Enahora, Paris Jones, and Sydnee Carroll. Royce Zackery, Choreographer.
L to R – Yasmeen Enahora, Paris Jones, and Sydnee Carroll. Royce Zackery, Choreographer.

…then suddenly they were—not delicately or demurely but statuesquely, with epic presence self-assertion.

Sydnee Carroll. Photo by  Justin D. Knight.
Sydnee Carroll. Photo by Justin D. Knight.

The lighting for each dance by TW Starnes was especially effective. Besides the choreographers named, Jennifer Archibald (“Shook”), Francesca Harper (“A Reconfigured Dream”), and Bre S. C. Seals (“1 – 3 – 13″)  contributed stunning work. The talented corp of dancers included Michael C. Bradford, Trey Rochell Capers, Aliyha Crawford, Lailah Duke, Raechelle Ellison, Yasmeen Enahora, Makeda Griffith, Destiny Jade Hill, Alyssa Holmes, Alexus Jones, Paris Jones, Ani Mayo, Ariarna Odom, Charise Pinkston, Rose Chantal Porter, Jessica Potts, Olivia Russell, and Jaleesa Sharp.

The combined talent on stage was simply awesome.

Running Time: One hour and 30 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

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Emerge: Annual Spring Dance Concert produced by Howard University Department of Theatre Arts played April 10 and 11, 2015 at the Ira Aldridge Theater – 2455 6th Street, NW, in Washington, DC.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

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John Stoltenberg
John Stoltenberg is executive editor of DC Theater Arts. He writes both reviews and his Magic Time! column, which he named after that magical moment between life and art just before a show begins. In it, he explores how art makes sense of life—and vice versa—as he reflects on meanings that matter in the theater he sees. Decades ago, in college, John began writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays. He continued through grad school—earning an M.F.A. in theater arts from Columbia University School of the Arts—then lucked into a job as writer-in-residence and administrative director with the influential experimental theater company The Open Theatre, whose legendary artistic director was Joseph Chaikin. Meanwhile, his own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then John’s life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction essays, articles, and books and had a distinguished career as a magazine editor. But he kept going to the theater, the art form that for him has always been the most transcendent and transporting and best illuminates the acts and ethics that connect us. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg. Member, American Theatre Critics Association.


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