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Sassy fun: DCDC perform Bebe Miller’s Aerodigm.

In the Air
By Mae G. Banner

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company
The Egg, April 17

Flight was the unifying theme for the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in concert last Saturday at the Egg, but the theme never got in the way of the dances, which ranged from inspirational to downright funky.

The Flight Project, a set of newly commissioned and repertory dances, was the dish DCDC brought to their hometown’s celebration in 2003 of the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight. It went down so well that it won them an extra summer season in Dayton. The troupe has been touring U.S. cities with the project ever since.

From The Flight Project, we saw dances by Sir Warren Spears (knighted by the Queen of Denmark), Bebe Miller, and Bill T. Jones—all marquee choreographers.

Whatever the mood of the dance, DCDC projects a sense of community. Ensemble dances are the rule, with the rare solos serving as bright punctuation marks in the flow of group movement. The 14 dancers appear to seek and relate to each other. They share space, rather than competing for it. The dances make room for individual quirks and subtle differences in character, but always in a climate of mutual appreciation. Above all, there are no choreographic clichés and no sentiment. Varied as they are, these dances are just life.

The show opened with Spears’ On the Wings of Angels, (1996) a clean, pure tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen, whose distinguished service in World War II shattered the country’s racist notion that blacks were not up to the job. Seven men in white T-shirts and pants carve out minimalist movements, a deliberately limited vocabulary of bends, turns, spirals and slow salutes. They start in a ragged line, but become a band of brothers, moving toward unison.

Daniel Marshall danced the piece’s luminous solo, “An Angel’s Dream,” with limpid technique, his body flowing through changes in direction and level from leaps to falls. Insistent, repetitive music by John Adams and Steve Reich soars with the dancers as they lift and support each other. In one repeated motif, a dancer propelled by anger steps out of line and another puts his hand on his comrade’s shoulder, gently pulling him back.

Angels is an endurance dance of elemental gestures. Much is demanded of these men and much is given. The final section bursts into a formation of tours jetés. Then, one after another, the men bend their knees, lean backward and torque, taking the blows, then springing back. By the final winged tableau, I wanted to salute.

Bebe Miller’s Aerodigm (2002) is a sassy contrast to the aspiration and dedication of Angels. Miller disports eight dancers on a skewed playground where they try out loose and kicky moves to happy, choppy string music by Giovanni Sollima, Jurgen Knieper and Laurie Anderson. One man juggles a few tennis balls. Others sit and slide on their butts or do a balletic shag with broken lines and skittery skips.

A male voice threads through the sound-score, repeating Gertrude Stein-like phrases that give the romp a touch of mystery, as if there might be monsters in the shadows. But, light dispels the shadows, flutes sing, and a woman glides in on roller skates for a warm-hearted finish.

In his and before . . . (2003) Bill T. Jones makes jokes on baroque. Dancers zig and zag their heads, feet and torsos in amusing entanglements to a Bach cello sonata, exaggerating the dancing-master’s formality. Lighting by Robert Wierzel throws giant shadows of the dancers’ bodies on the back and side walls, so the cast of six seems doubled and redoubled.

Like Miller, Jones breaks balletic lines to create piquancy and challenge symmetry. His dancers may lie on their backs with one knee up, or they may do a set of knee pivots. They step off in unknown and unsettled directions, but, always, they are a group.

After three dances in whites, muted earth colors, and grays, Children of the Passage is a colorful Mardi Gras cake. Lighting by William H. Grant III makes the dancers’ legs glow red while their bodies, clad in pouffy taffeta dance dresses, gleam purple and their arms are green. All these yummy changes happen in a darkened New Orleans dance club with a backdrop of two grand arched windows filtering moonlight onto the ensemble of 11 dancers.

It’s a surreal setting filled with iconic characters from black tradition: the trickster, the shaman, the temptress, perhaps the devil. Each dancer presents a character with a separate life. Yet, they dance together and alone, sometimes swingy and sometimes down and dirty to the wah-wah horns of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

There’s an abstracted funeral procession with draggy steps and listlessly swinging arms. There’s a conjuring solo, “Indulgent Spirit,” for a man in black with white gloves. And, there’s a final “Shout,” with a woman in white leading a dance hall full of pulsating bodies who do mighty jumps to conga drums.

The Dirty Dozen’s music was so fine, a woman asked if she could buy the sound track. Well, no, but she’ll keep the colors of the dance painted behind her eyes for a good long time.

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