REVIEW: DC Contemporary Dance Theater presents “UBUNTU: For the Whole of All Humanity”

REVIEW: DC Contemporary Dance Theater presents UBUNTU: For the Whole of All Humanity
by Christina Lindenmuth

The lights went down in the Jack Guidone black box theater on the evening of March 4th, and we were introduced to DC Contemporary Dance Theater’s Artistic Director Miya Hisaka Silva. She stood like a ballerina, shoulders back and head high, beaming with pride as she went on and on about the incredible work that her company is doing for local and international communities. She explained that the night’s show, UBUNTU For the Whole of All Humanity, is the second annual “incubator series”: a compilation of works designed by up-and-coming young choreographers. Her compassion for her dancers poured out of her like a broken faucet as she sweetly rambled on. It gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling, but also made me impatient to see some dancing!

The first piece was worth the wait. The music was calm and ambient, reminding me of soothing water, and the movement reflected that with rounded shapes and fluid motions. The dancers seemed to dance outside themselves, with a larger-than-life sort of expression. I was entranced. When the music changed, their choreography became animalistic. With hunched backs, bent knees and flexed feet, I felt like I was watching some sort of ancient species of giant birds. Choreographer Francisco Castillo appropriately named the piece Pajaros Pintados, which translates to “Painted Birds.”

Throughout the show we were given a widely diverse range of contemporary choreography. One of the most interesting works was The Beginning of the After by Lloyd Whitmore. I immediately recognized the music from one of my favorite movies, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. The dancers, dressed in nude body suits, moved like the gears of a clock in time with the methodical chimes. They repeated a Fosse-like arm movement as they changed lines and executed kaleidoscopic formation changes. I felt that at any moment the scene would pan out and we would realize we were watching tiny people inside of a wristwatch, working together to make it tick properly.

Another standout piece was Through the Looking Glass by Hannah Conn. The tempo was upbeat and exciting, and Cara Davis was sharp and playful as she flipped her skirt and ponytail around and punctuated the accents in the music. She held the audience’s attention and was very fun to watch. We later learned that this piece was originally choreographed as a duet, but due to an unexpected injury was changed last minute to become a solo. I was impressed by the adaptation and would be curious to see it performed as the original duet.

By far my favorite piece of the night was Zenith, a dance that incorporated live spoken word. The dancers themselves were speaking while dancing over a jazzy piano tune that brought us back in time to the Harlem Renaissance. The four girls, dressed in apron-like skirts, took turns delivering their lines in between their funky, at times sassy, choreography. The old time nightclub vibe was infectious. They even got an “alright now” and a “let’s go ladies” from some audience members. A fifth woman in a long colorful dress was the main poet, sauntering across the stage and reciting her lines about the importance of “being who you are through what you write.” I was impressed by the artistry of Chandini Darby, who all at once was the poet, choreographer, and performer. I now have a coy affection for this piece and would watch it five more times if I ever got the chance!

Other pieces of the night included a beautifully performed solo by JP Flores, a story of a secret love triangle by Lloyd Whitmore, an emotional demonstration of strength and perseverance by Sydnee Carroll, and the exciting, heart pounding, tribal finale by Francisco Castillo and Danilo Rivera.

Overall I was enthused by the range of pieces that were shown. The “blossoming choreographers,” as Miya called them, each brought a different perspective to the line up. I also enjoyed the design of the show: the words from the choreographers in the program, the musical interludes in between performances, and the cast introductions afterwards. It was surely a night to remember.

The DC Contemporary Dance Theater members all radiated a sort of magnetic quality that made me feel like I was a part of something larger than what was happening in that moment. Their pure love of the art of dance was undeniable and certainly contagious. Searching for a word to describe this feeling (and coming up short) led me to the title of the show, UBUNTU. “Ubuntu” is a Zulu word, used to describe the philosophy of “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.” It’s a word that the English language lacks, but that the DC Contemporary Dance Theater radiates in their diverse culture and their passion for dance.