May 11, 2007
Volume 35
Issue 19
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Dayton Contemporary Dance Company's 'color-ography, n. the dances of Jacob Lawrence' is a brilliant and moving tribute to the artist
Dayton Contemporary Dance Company's 'color-ography, n. the dances of Jacob Lawrence' is a brilliant and moving tribute to the artist
by E. Joyce Glasgow - SGN A&E Writer

The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, (DCDC), brought their brilliant and moving tribute to late Seattle artist, Jacob Lawrence, to Meany Hall's "World Series" on May 3rd-5th. "Color-ography, n. the dances of Jacob Lawrence", featured four pieces by invited choreographers; Donald Byrd, Reggie Wilson, Rennie Harris and DCDC's artistic director Kevin Ward. Each dance captured a different essence of Jacob Lawrence's art work beautifully. The dancers captivated me with their power, grace, strength, flexibility, versatility, expressiveness, commitment and seemingly boundless energy.

Lawrence, born in 1917 in Atlantic City, was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. His work illuminated the history and culture of the African-American community with colorfully bold, dynamic and dramatic depictions. For sixty five years he was an astute observer and storyteller, focusing on the struggle for freedom and justice in America from the Civil War period of the 1860's, through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's, to the end of the twentieth century. He addressed rural and urban experiences through narrative series, tracing African-American migration from the agricultural South to the industrial cities of the North in The Migration of the Negro (1941), paid homage to Harriet Tubman and portrayed contemporary life surrounding him in his Harlem community in the mid-twentieth century. Lawrence became a professor of painting at the University of Washington in 1971, where he continued to teach as Professor Emeritus after his retirement in 1980.

In his later career, he was known for his serigraphs (silkscreens), many of them versions of his earlier series paintings, as well as for his book illustrations. His work can be found internationally in almost two hundred museum collections and, in his lifetime, he won numerous awards including: the National Medal of Arts, the NAACP's Spingarn Medal, over two dozen honorary degrees and, in 1983, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the highest humanities honor bestowed in the United States. Lawrence died on June 9th, 2000 at age eighty-two.

In the first dance of DCDC's program, choreographer, Donald Byrd created J Lawrence Paint (Harriet Tubman Remix) to music by Sarah Vaughn, Bent, Moby, Archie Shepp, Bigga Bush and Mondo Grosso. This large group piece followed the story of migration to the North, with Harriet Tubman as its centerpiece. The dancers moved powerfully, in simple white clothing, through different sections together with broad and commanding gestures and one could feel the rural essence, strength and perseverance of a people, held down in the agricultural South, determined to go North through hardship and with hope, to find a better life. This dance was very moving and both my companion and I were moved to tears.

The second dance, Continuing Education, by Kevin Ward, with music by John Adams, explored movement by two couples, each having tighter, compact, smaller and more intimate movement with each other to John Adam's more minimalist music. This piece was a contrast to the first, taking less space for expression than the first bold, larger piece. The costumes reflected Lawrence's use of bright, vivid colors as the men wore shiny satin, loose pajamas in a kind of periwinkle blue and the women wore contrasting, shiny gold colored outfits. Kevin Ward wrote in the program notes: "Five paintings- Taboo, Dreams, American Revolution, Wounded Man, and Ordeal of Alice- serve as foundation of my exploration of Lawrence's art of social turbulence from the 1960's. His work from this period is crammed with monsters, demons, dogs, angels and men".

The third dance, Reggie Wilson's, We ain't goin' home but we finna to get the hell up outta here, was a group piece that brought the urban feel of many of Lawrence's works to focus. Dance hall couples and groups danced and intermingled, girls in party dresses, with more fast paced choreography, slightly reminiscent of Wilson's choreography in his group piece that he presented at On the Boards a couple of weeks ago. His musical choices were: Traditional Banda-Dakpa from the Central African Republic, Amatoso Makaota, Jesse Mae Hemphill, Al Green, Ella Andel, Foxy Brown and Othar Turner.

The fourth and final dance was by the great Rennie Harris. Jacob's Ladder, with music by Zapp Mama, blew the audience away with its intense and lightening speed hip-hop movements, performed with the most amazing drive and energy by the dancers. This dance was an awe-inspiring joy to watch, again concentrating on Lawrence's more urban expressions, brought more into a contemporary, city feeling by the hip- hop choreography. The large group flew across the stage in movement formations, singly, in duos, trios and all-together in rigorous steps. Kudos to DCDC for being able to give so much of themselves at the end of a long evening. Costumes consisted of tailored, sharp looking pants and white shirts with stripes painted on to look like suspenders, and fedora hats.

Rennie Harris said of his piece: "The piece is inspired by the passion and verve of Mr. Lawrence's work. I hope to convey his inspiration for life, his understanding of spirit, and his freedom of voice, mind and body. In short, his work understands that movement is the last manifestation of one's reality. It is what we do, not what we say or who we hope to be, but rather, what we do that defines us".

The pieces used subtle, simple, individual videos throughout the evening, gently enhancing the dancing.

Our Saturday night audience was joined by Donald Byrd, who had just flown back in time from Chicago to see the performance and by Reggie Wilson, who flew to Seattle from New York, especially to see the performance.

I found the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company to be one of the best dance companies to visit Seattle. They had only been here once before, a few years back, at Bumbershoot. They are truly a joy to experience and I hope they return to Seattle as soon as possible.

To learn more about the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company visit: To learn more about upcoming events at Meany Hall visit:

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