Review: “Ubuntu: For the Whole of All Humanity” by TDC at Dance Place

From the DC Dance Journalism Project

The DC Contemporary Dance Theatre/El Teatro De Danza Contemporanea
Ubuntu: For the Whole of All Humanity
Dance Place, December 3rd and 4th, 2016

Review by Taryn Brown

The DC Contemporary Dance Theatre took the stage at Dance Place on December 3rd and 4th in a mixed bag concert, assembled in a similar fashion to an adjudicated screening of choreography projects. The show featured several classical modern pieces, a few ballet compositions, and a finale, which mashed together modern dance and contemporary ballet.

The dances were executed with textbook-like style, execution, and form. The precision and virtuosity were enjoyable to watch, as the show emphasized the annals of modern dance history (with some classical ballet sprinkled in for good measure). The audience gave a standing ovation upon the conclusion of the show, and I overheard an audience member asking the videographer beside me if she could buy a DVD of the event because she liked it so much.

It can be said that the pieces that comprised UBUNTU: FOR THE WHOLE OF HUMANITY were pleasing, beautiful, and innocent. They were also well-rehearsed and highlighted years of arduous dance training confirmed by the ease and grace within the dancers. The performers were all incredibly toned with tight bodies that shone their brilliance in nude colored shorts and unitards. For the seasoned watcher it was apparent that much of the movement vocabulary mirrored that of a technique class. Attitude turns, side tilts on relevé, developpés, 4th position plies, running waltzes, and chassés filled the space with focused motion. The choreographic tools of repetition and theme and variations were frequented often, which emphasized dance composition’s classical relationship to music composition.

My expectations for the show were high. The company’s history spans three decades and two continents. They have been based in Washington, DC and El Salvador, reflected by their company name being listed in two languages (DC Contemporary Dance Theatre/El Teatro de Danza Contemporanea). The theater was almost sold out…

The presumptions I had were met with a yin and yang of success. The show had laudable moments to praise. The poetry and performance by Chandini Darby in Legacy’s Voice was personable and the epitome of a self-portrait thesis solo in dance. Its assertively powerful and hopeful message to other African-American women (or marginalized people in general) rang clearly in the theater.

Max Maisey’s performance in K-622, choreographed by Gloria Contreras, was truly inspiring. The virtuosic dancer partnered like a storybook romance mate. His strength and ease with lifting Chika Imamura was heart melting. He was a true knight in shining armor (or should I say amour?) who had the impulse and integrity to fix his partner’s skirt at a moment when it may have gotten stuck in an awkward position.

The strongest group pieces were Pajaros Pintados choreographed by Franciso Castillo and the premiere of Songs Without Words by Lloyd Whitmore. Both featured bountiful amounts of highly trained bound flow and Horton technique. The dancers seemed at home in these two pieces, as they executed the choreography with precision and ease within small kinespheres. As well, the solo performed by Fidel Garcia, Solo Para Angel Contemporaneo by Gloria Contreras, provided an uplifting and inspiring experience through its sublime finesse and measured tranquility.

I love watching dance for dance’s sake. This concert was the embodiment of such type of choreography. The use of abstract movement without an obvious narrative to classical and percussive music was a paradigm developed by many 20th century dance masters. Ubuntu seemed to be giving a renewed voice to past masters like Jose Limon, Alvin Ailey, and Paul Taylor. The balletic pieces by Gloria Contreras evoked remembrances of Antony Tudor and Frederick Ashton with their simplicity and near abstraction of classical dance.

The downside of the evening was that if you have seen a lot of work by the previously stated pioneers of abstract modern and ballet, then there wasn’t much newness regarding choreographic style and form. However, that wasn’t the mission of the production and creative team. As Miya Hisaka Silva stated in the program, “we hope our dances help to develop a sense of pride, human dignity and empowerment…to help our diverse communities better co-exist during these challenging times.” This company is helping to bring new audiences into the past legacy of modern dance and neoclassical ballet through present time and that is a commendable effort. I agree with Ms. Silva, in that her company has the potential to do such greatness.