Dance Repertory Theatre's Momentum

This program of dances informed by African American experiences and culture was highly physical and emotionally urgent

“black is the new black”: (l-r): Kanami Nakabayashi, Mackenzie Voorhies, Kaitlyn Jones, Francis Rodriguez, Hunter Sturgis, Nicholas Kao (top) (Photo by Lawrence Peart)

Sometimes universities feel like the most insular of places, ivory towers where eccentricities and pontifical discourse are sheltered from the urgency of everyday life. But other times, as with Dance Repertory Theatre's program of dance works informed by African-American experiences and culture, the university feels like a watchtower, a vital refuge for truly considering, from myriad angles, some of the most serious issues of our time.

For Momentum, the faculty directors of the University of Texas Department of Theatre & Dance troupe – Charles O. Anderson, Jeremy Arnold, and Lyn C. Wiltshire – curated a total of 11 works: one by each director, three by faculty at other universities, three by professional choreographers outside of academia, and two by UT students. (The 11 works are shuffled into three different programs of 9-10 works each, performed in 10 performances over two weeks.) The works on the Feb. 17 program, while diverse in aesthetic and focus, mostly cohered in a highly physical, emotionally urgent offering.

A white floor and slipcovers on the seats dramatized Zora Neale Hurston's words, "I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background," quoted both in the program note for student Oluwaseun Samuel Olayiwola's "black is the new black" and in projections that flooded the floor and walls during Anderson's "(Re)current Unrest, pt. 2: In D'Nile." Against this flat and inanimate whiteness, the artists boundlessly explored blackness, African-American experience and culture, and African diaspora in dance.

The program opener, "Lec/Dem or How Do You Spell Femaphobic" by University of Colorado – Boulder professor Gesel Mason, began as an entertaining lecture-demonstration and morphed into a 16-dancer embodiment of cultural labels on the female body, from the ridiculous to the silencing. In Anderson's "(re)current," the 21-member cast wore black masks with white crosses over their mouths. While one group stomped in syncopated rhythms, another, behind a scrim, raised their arms in surrender, laughing chillingly. Olayiwola's "black" focused on cultural feelings about the color, indirectly illuminating race issues with charming and inventive text and movement. Arnold, also a dancer with Tapestry Dance Company, continued his rhythm tap exploration of Bach with "Bach in Time," for eight women, and "Second to Khan," by Philadelphia choreographer Rennie Harris, dramatized the escalating terror of a police shooting and left a black man, eyes open, motionless on the floor.

Despite the overall high quality of the 10 works, the two-and-a-half-hour program may have proved too much for many of us. Not so, however, for the dancers. Unflagging, they challenged our fatigue with a refusal to let theirs show. In the program, the directors note that last April, DRT performed its spring concert under "horrific circumstances" – Bodies and Souls opened just days after the murder of first-year dance student Haruka Weiser. Perhaps, Momentum suggests, it is in continued remembrance of personal tragedies that we may find the strength to reach out in a broader scope, to continue where others falter.


Oscar G. Brockett Theatre, Winship Drama Bldg., 300 E. 23rd, 512/477-6060
Through Feb. 26
Running time: 2 hr., 30 min.

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Dance Repertory Theatre, UT Department of Theatre & Dance, Charles O. Anderson, Lyn C. Wiltshire, Jeremy Arnold, Oluwaseun Samuel Olayiwola, Zora Neale Hurston, Gesel Mason, Rennie Harris

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