City Parks Foundation's Central Park Summerstage: NATHANTRICE/RITUALS DANCE THEATER AND DAYTON CONTEMPORARY DANCE COMPANY (DCDC)by Dalia Ratnikas
A mission statement is hardly the genesis of an organization’s intention, but these crystallized comments are often surprisingly revelatory—in their construction as much as their meaning. Take, for example, the mission statement of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, founded over 40 years ago by Jeraldyne Blunden in Dayton, Ohio, as compared with that of nathantrice/RITUALS dance theater, with one quarter of DCDC’s history, yet infinitely more artistic wealth.
DCDC, which describes itself first as “rooted in the African American experience,” aims “to deliver contemporary dance of the highest quality to the broadest possible audience.” Key words here are “deliver,” “quality,” and “broadest.” A group of, for the most part, extremely competent dancers executed nicely four distinct pieces this evening. At their best, the work was reminiscent of Alvin Ailey’s; Gina Walther’s “Still Present” evoked reverence for humanity’s bird-like qualities. But the cloying melodrama in Shonna Hickman-Matlock’s “Unresolved” and the paste-up smiles for William McClellan Jr.’s “Milonga!” brought to mind a high-school pageant. Despite the diversity of the dances’ themes, costumes, and music, the tempo was uniform; the relationship between movement and sound always held a one-to-one correspondence. And ultimately, the dancers maintained an emotional distance from the work, performing rather than being.
Contrast that with the mission statement of Nathan Trice’s company: “To serve those who seek the reflective importance of being human through art, in a Visual, Audio, Sensory, Theatrical (VAST) production.” Key words here are “serve,” “reflective,” and “human.” Trice brings a more intellectual attitude to choreography, but the work doesn’t at all feel hyper-conceptual. Instead, it’s organic and emotionally rich, with an intense physicality that describes much more effectively the “African American experience”—in fact the human experience—than DCDC’s showy gestures. Trice’s dancers dance for and with each other, rather than the audience, and the intensity of their connection is riveting. In “Strange Love,” a suite of musings on partnership, Trice punctuates his dancers’ liquid, jazzy isolations with high developé kicks. The couples shift from clowning to loving to fighting, as a flexed foot passes toward a ducking head into a clapping hand. The women’s taffeta-swathed bodies undulate and freeze and push; the men, in roomy white dress shirts and slacks, shuffle and boogey and slide. Despite the strictly hetero-normative coupling, we see a woman lifting a man as many times as a man lifting a woman.
But an audience is a strange animal; DCDC might just be more effective at reaching that “broadest possible” group of people than the challenging RITUALS. During DCDC’s final piece, the unabashedly inspired “In My Father’s House,” choreographed by Artistic Director Debbie Blunden-Diggs, the audience got up on its feet to dance along to the fervent gospel hymns.