Lula Washington Dance Theatre

"Dances for McCoy," "Om," & "Songs of the Disinherited"

Center for the Visual and Performing Arts at CSUN,
Northridge, CA

October 26, 2002
By Madeleine Swift

Lula Washington Dance Theatre is not only a local, national and international dance company, it is also a widely recognized force for dance education serving a huge community in Los Angeles through their school, the Youth Dance Ensemble and a variety of Teen/Apprentice Workshops. They offer performances and workshops from elementary through high school through the LAUSD, as well. It is also, by the way, in its first year as the Resident Dance Company at CSUN. Last night, they gave their first performance at the Center for the Visual and Performing Arts at CSUN.

Three of Ms. Washington’s pieces were presented Saturday night.

Dances for McCoy – 2001 – Four excerpted pieces - made in collaboration with music by McCoy Tyner were up first. African Village was filled with a wonderful musical energy that seemed more than the chaotic choreography could contain. Though the dancers tried frantically to execute the movement, both dancers & movement were left behind and this first piece was oddly disconnected.

The Musician and the Dancer was an amusing tease of a pas de deux, well danced by Kim Borgaro and Alexander Pelham.

Memories was the third in this suite, which according to program notes, was being rehearsed on 9/11/2001. The choreography was changed to reflect the shock and grief of that day. Movement was sustained and almost slow motion. Though the subject matter was something we could all relate to, the choreography was obvious and on the nose, taking us no deeper and offering no individual insight.

Flyin’ With the Wind was the highlight of this suite. Filled with unabashed joy and a new, more personal movement vocabulary and finally employing some unison phrases, we were, as a group, uplifted and flyin’ with hope and gladness. Ms. Washington does not leave us without her belief in the resiliency and faith of the human heart.

There is an extraordinary piece within Om, the second ballet of the evening. It is the story of a young African girl about to be “circumcised”; a ritual amputation of her clitoris, practiced for centuries by ancestors with the belief that by doing so, the woman will be faithful to her husband. Though this piece is about 30% too long, it is filled with an unsparing horror, grief and outrage that does not let up. Coltrane's music is a perfect choice for this piece. The ensemble performs remarkably with the bloodlust of ancestral imperative colored by memories of their own personal mutilations not so far in the past. It is clear how pain and anger are perpetuated through the generations.

Ms. Washington holds our feet to the fire through the character of the “initiate”, danced by the remarkable Nicole Smith, as she resists and finally succumbs to the forced submission of her own mutilation. She is left shaking uncontrollably at the end of this horrifying ritual. But, we are left with an undeniable ember of hope that perhaps a new consciousness has been born within this individual woman and that this will serve to guide others who will come after her.

Next came Dance of Play an excerpt from Rites – 2000 meant to celebrate love, childhood play and to give homage to dance pioneers who came before. The parade of pioneers was slightly amusing. The choreographer herself appeared as a clown festooned with balloons, however, her performance was topped by the final duet which employed the great and joyful movement vocabulary for which she is known: waving arms, turned in kicking legs, wonderful fast head rolls, unbridled enthusiasm.

The final piece belonged to Donald McKayle, legendary choreographer and member of her board of directors. Songs of the Disinherited is a finely wrought suite of the enduring human heart that reaches out to others and up to God in its despair and joy. The dancers come together displaying a very fine, modern technique within clear choreography. Nicole Smith is again the dramatic heroine in her solo, Angelitos Negros, and she takes our breath away. Made in 1972, the movement is so specific and true to its theme that it breaks your heart and mends it again.

The Company won a raucous, standing ovation.


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Edited by Marie.

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