REVIEW: Dance In Color: A Celebration of Cultural Heritage through Movement at Dance Loft

REVIEW: Dance In Color: A Celebration of Cultural Heritage through Movement at Dance Loft

By Raquel Lake

In the spirit of showcasing local talent and providing a welcoming space, Dance In Color: A Celebration of Cultural Heritage through Movement, was born. It was the brainchild of Dance Loft on 14 production manager Simone Baskerville, who wanted the first show of their 2017 season to be a “vehicle for connectivity” and a “celebration of the lines that define and the color that illuminates our individuality.” Each of the night’s performers succeeded in this goal and in giving a great introduction of what they have to offer.

Before the show even began we were exposed to the rich talents of local D.C. businesses in a pop up shop. There was handmade jewelry by Asha Santee who was also one of the night’s performers. They were t-shirts with great messages from The Den, tees for artists and entrepreneurs by Crome, handmade jewelry and journals wrapped in African fabrics made by All Things B. Alexis, and even a Black Book, a version of the yellow pages that contains black businesses in the D.C. area. There were a wealth of other goods to see and buy from these artist-entrepreneurs, who are all worth seeking out. The pop up shop served as a preamble to the night’s festivities.

A sparse crowd truly got a treat. Our night of celebration through movement kicked off with an energetic high spirited performance by the Lady Raiders Step Team from Eleanor Roosevelt High School. The five girls with attitude and flair stepped their way to the stage introducing us to who they are and what they do. The Lady Raiders are the top step team in the country, and while they stomped, clapped, and made a dope percussive beat, they got everybody excited and involved. Steppers instructed us how to clap, and after we produced the bass line, they dropped the beat with a step, step, clap. The Lady Raiders also took time to tell us a little history about step and its origins. These ladies did more than amaze, they represented the best of what this rich dance form has to offer. Lady Raiders Step Team opened the night with an exceptional performance that got the audience ready for more.

After the rousing stepping, our host Maryam Fatima Foye came out to greet us and tell us more about the show and its goal to show the wealth of talent of artists of color in the DMV. Since February is black history month, this show was also a way to celebrate the contribution of black artists and all artist of color.  

The next two performers to take the stage were from KaribSah. Their piece, titled Ola!, was like a workout session accented with Caribbean flair. The dancers, dressed in blue tank tops and black pants, each had feather armbands on one arm and feather leg bands right under the knee. The music asked for a good winding waist, and the dancers eagerly obliged. The audience clapped and danced to the beat while the duo kept our attention working their hips, taking it all the way down to the floor and working it out all the way back up.

After two solid uptempo performances, the mood changed when Hermione Rhones took to the stage with If I Could Hear My Mother Pray. Her piece began with her walking out while singing some of the words from “If I Could Hear My Mother Pray.” Next she delivered a story about a fond memory of her mother getting dressed up in her “movie star shoes.” Once the story ended, the music started, and the poet/spoken word artist became a dancer. While the soulful tune stirred my soul, Rhone reached and leapt with lyrically poetic movements. She would rub her hands together to symbolize prayer. You got the sense that this was a personal piece, a dancer taking to the stage to sort out life, art being used to communicate a person’s journey. Her piece quietly ended with dancer kneeling to pray. It was a great piece to have in the show because it reflected the true nuance of any culture which is diversity of ideas and how to express them.

A dark stage waited for the next dancer to perform. As she entered, bells ringing could be heard. When the lights came up there stood a beautifully dressed dancer in a red sari, green shirt, and anklets with bells. Rashi Narain from Spilling Ink Dance Company smiled, and her expressive face lit up the whole theater. All the familiar vocabulary of Indian dance was well-executed: the footwork, intricate hand gestures, and precise facial expressions. Most impressive were the poses struck, held for some time, that then lead into rapid fire movements to the beat. This piece choreographed by Sudharini Raghupathy, although short, was a great contribution to the night’s theme of exploring color and culture.

SEALS Dance Project was up next; their piece was the first of the night to feature a male and female dancer. Their piece was called eko, and again I was struck by the level of emotion the performers conveyed. I felt like a fly on the wall watching the two lovers interact. He lifted while her body was held, arms and legs extended. What was stunning was when the pair would dance in unison. To watch the two different dancers bodies interact with the movements was compelling. The piece had many balletic movements. The arms moved with fluidity and grace while legs extended all the way to pointed feet, very sweetly and poetically. His long strong frame alongside her petite stature added to the idea of watching two people in a relationship react differently to the same thing. It was a thoughtful performance.  

The night’s next piece, also featuring a male and female pair, was Flashbacks, performed by the Dayo N Dance Performance Company. The pair started on the ground, then helped each other up. After this friendly gesture, the conflict began. Two tormented dancers ran to each other only to find struggle. They pushed and pulled with fervor but there was also a tenderness to the movements. All of this told a story of love and of a relationship. The fluidity of this lyrical piece was mesmerizing. This piece also had some amazing lifts that showed strength and patience of the dancers, who let the image live with the audience long enough to be fully absorbed. At times I just watched letting the story unfold, not wanting to look away to take notes. To end, quietly the dancers took to the floor again with politeness, just like the dance began.

If dance is poetry for the eyes then music is poetry for the ears. The only musical act of the night did not disappoint with their poetry. BOOMScat, in a word, was fantastic. The two lovely ladies sat poised while they wowed us with two songs. Patience, an amazing vocalist, and Asha, a phenomenal musician and singer (she played the keyboard and made a beat with a box she sat on), make up this band. I count myself lucky to have gotten to see these ladies perform in such an intimate setting. They performed a song called Alright that is an absolute smash. I was absolutely blown away by BOOMScat. Asha also contributed pieces from her handmade jewelry and clothing line “note 2 self” clothing for the pop up shop. These very talented ladies will be performing at SXSW this March.

Asami Seki, in her piece Ugly Pink Secret, took us on a journey, I believe, to see the emperor. Her piece began with her dancing without music, her only accompaniment was the bright pink sash she wore around her neck. She placed the sash just so on the ground, then yelled out “he has no clothes.” Next, the music began and Seki delivered meticulously extended legs and gorgeous pointed feet to tell her story. Her lines were just great. She truly wowed every time she lifted a leg. This petite dancer commanded the stage and my attention. She used all the space to deliver the movement with impact. At the end, Seki blew part of the scarf out of the way; I suppose the emperor never got his clothes.

The last solo performance of the night was by Briana Stuart. Her piece SEEN reminded me of a what it looks like when a leaf is blowing in the wind. Dressed in eye-catching spotted leggings, you could not help but see Stuart as she like a leaf was swept up in the wind. She spun, she leapt, and she took to the ground vying to be seen. There was a sense of mystery of where the wind might take her next. This brief introduction of Stuart’s work left me wanting to see more.

Dance in Color started with exciting stepping, and it fittingly ended with electrifying hip hop. The dancers of The Breani Project brought it and worked it out in their piece Bad Boy Set. The five dancers, which included four girls and one boy, gave us a dynamic breakdown of some the popular dances that come from hip hop. Whichever dancer you chose to follow, you were never disappointed.

As the night wrapped up I was pleased with to have been at the first Dance in Color, and I expect next year to be even better.