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The DREAM Celebration

Presented by CityDance and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities
Co-presented by Rasta Thomas

by Carmel Morgan

May 4, 2013 -- Lincoln Theatre, Washington, DC

I had not been inside the historic Lincoln Theatre on DC’s U Street until the DREAM Celebration, a very special performance presented by CityDance and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which was co-produced by Rasta Thomas. The Lincoln Theatre was built in 1922, and acclaimed African-American artists such as Washington natives Duke Ellington and Pearl Bailey performed there. The U Street neighborhood has undergone significant revitalization since the 1968 riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Lincoln Theatre is at the center of the action.

Thomas is certainly among Washington’s most popular dancers. He trained at DC’s Kirov Academy of Ballet, and made a name for himself, first as a teen sensation in international ballet competitions, and more recently through the Bad Boys of Dance, which he founded in 2007. No doubt Thomas’s connections helped to amass the tremendous talent that appeared on the program. But there’s also little doubt that the dancers participating in the performance were drawn to a good cause. Proceeds from the DREAM Celebration are to support CityDance’s community programs for underserved youth in DC.

Among the performers were longtime favorite of mine Clifton Brown, formerly of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and now with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, and rising star Michaela DePrince of Dance Theatre of Harlem, who was featured in the 2011 documentary “First Position.” Also on the program were dancers from Ballet X, Dorrance Dance, KGP, the Lombard Twins, the Orlando Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre, American Ballet Theatre, the Washington Ballet, and CityDance’s own conservatory and DREAM students. I can only assume that the numerous guest artists chose to perform pieces they personally love and that they really enjoyed the opportunity to share the stage with other stars in their field.

The DREAM Celebration’s breadth of offerings, as well as the short duration of the works, was perfect for those with short attention spans. The dance styles represented included ballet, hip-hop, contemporary, and tap. While I won’t discuss every piece, I can assure you that the artists all brought their hearts and high energy to the Lincoln Theatre stage. I would certainly bet that at least one young audience member was wowed enough to vow to grow up to be a dancer. Even those who probably have outgrown the possibility of having a dance career were surely stirred. Furthermore, I guarantee even the dancers themselves left the theater with renewed enthusiasm for dance. It was that kind of inspirational evening and night to remember.

In that spirit, and given the purpose of the performance to raise money to help support giving the gift of dance to those who couldn’t otherwise afford it, I’m going to refrain from being overly critical. Instead, I will praise the highlights and skip the negative stuff.

First, hats off to Michaela DePrince, who has got to be the new idol of a lot of aspiring ballerinas. She’s a strong dancer, and importantly, she makes you smile. In the Don Quixote pas de deux with the more veteran Joseph Phillips from the American Ballet Theatre, she absolutely held her own. I look forward to seeing her again and again, and to perhaps seeing the little girl two seats down from me on stage in another 10 years or so. The young girl seated near me seemed understandably entranced by Michaela’s dancing.

I admit it pained me to see the Ailey company without Clifton Brown this February at the Kennedy Center, and so it was wonderful to see him here. The duet that he performed with Attila Joey Csiki, Lubovitch’s 1986 “Concerto Six Twenty-Two,” radiated love and loveliness. The two men, each in white, intimately partnered each other, executing lifts that are rarely seen without a female in a tutu. The work is brave, and it was welcomed warmly.

Another highlight of the night was an excerpt from “Delicate Balance,” choreographed by Jodie Gates. BalletX’s William Cannon and Chloe Felesina performed this captivating work beautifully. I especially appreciated the little purposeful trips and hops, which rather than looking awkward, appeared startlingly pretty. I wish to see more of Gates’s work.

I also would be remiss if I didn’t mention the leaps and jumps of the Washington Ballet’s Brooklyn Mack in “Diana and Acteon.” With the height he achieves and the space he devours, he makes people gasp. He is extraordinary. As the young ladies in the audience might aspire to be like Michaela DePrince, I can easily imagine a young boy wanting to be just like Brooklyn Mack. Let’s hope there are more like him in the pipeline!

Finally, Robert J. Priore did a tremendous job with his choreography for CityDance’s conservatory students. In “Carnaval,” these young dancers truly shined. Challenging and fun, “Carnaval” showed off their skills, and it showed off their passion, too. Overall, the DREAM Celebration definitely made me excited about the future of dance, and excited about the opportunity for CityDance to reach more children, who might not otherwise develop a passion for dance. In my opinion, the DREAM Celebration would make a wonderful yearly event and fundraiser.

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