On Saturday, April 11 and Sunday, April 12, 2015, Dissonance Dance staged its latest performance “Black to Silver: A Black LGBT Experience” at Joy of Motion’s Jack Guidone Theater in Washington DC. The performance helps to increase awareness of the African American LGBT community by its display of the complexity of human relations through dance. Within this complexity, the opportunity to transform ignorance into knowledge, indifference into compassion, and inaction into action becomes salient.
The performance challenges the audience to imagine the spaces in which African American LBGT persons move, and the unsafe spaces beyond the walls of the theater or dance studio. This is particularly important since on April 1, 2015, the Anti-Violence Project reported: “Epidemic violence in the LBGTQ community particularly against transgenders of color in 2015,” thus signaling the need to address both marginalization and violence against African American LBGTQ persons.
The mix media program consists of 12 pieces, eight dance pieces choreographed by the company’s founder, Shawn Short, and four monologues all “inspired by Baldwin’s common themes of homoeroticism, acceptance, and affirmation,” according to Dissonance’s website. The dancers appear to move effortlessly on a black floor, with few theatrical props except for lighting. The first piece “Swing Out” made its world premiere during Saturday night’s performance. It introduces the entire company in a raucous, bawdy, and energetic combination of leaps, pirouettes, and lifts whetting the audience’s appetite before plunging into the more provocative subjects of same gender love, disappointment, and challenges.
“Ralph’s Monologue” that follows “Swing Out” tears away the veneer of conservative, heteronormative propriety as Vaughn Midder takes the stage shouting “homo, homo, homo,” forcing one’s attention to the crux of the performance, which is to examine the complexities of being LGBT, and I will add queer, in a society that although evolving continues to marginalize such persons, and particularly African American LGBTQ persons. The other three monologues—“Dre’s Monologue,” “Tavon’s Monologue,” and “Micci” explore HIV/AIDs, hook-up culture, and the legacy inherited from LBGT activists like Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, and Mom’s Mabley. The monologues verbalize and reinforce the emotions expressed by the dancers and serve as a reminder to the audience of the unnecessary generational chasm dividing the LGBT community and the need to bridge, if not eliminate, this chasm and support each other for the betterment of society. At times these monologues can veer towards the didactic, but this didacticism echoes Baldwin’s tone in his writings. It’s unfortunate though that the monologue writers believe the didacticism is necessary in order to educate and develop awareness of African American LGBT issues in the 21st century. It speaks volumes to a perception of society’s lack of total acceptance of this community.
The company’s performance stands out in its series of pas de deux, which are performed by William Wilson and Moyston Henry Jr. These dancers appear light as air as they elevate each other in touching, awe-inspiring lifts prompting one to speculate on how they are achieving such perfect execution. For those who don’t follow dance or dance, pas de deux is a couple’s dance commonly performed by a man and woman. Short’s twist on this by coupling two men may not be ingenious, but it is thought provoking in its ability to render a sort of clarity about same gender male relationships and create an intimate encounter within a public space. Wilson and Henry appear to sail through the air like ash, and this can only be achieved with months of training and rehearsal, and an understanding of the physics of dance. In this regard, choreographer Short and the dancers have mastered this physics. The audience sits close enough to the stage to witness any faux pas, and none are committed.
The world premiere of “Sweet Poison” highlights Short’s lesbian-themed piece performed by Dominique Atwood to Jazmine Sullivan’s song “Lions, Tigers, and Bears.” While Atwood’s performance is solo, Sullivan’s song evokes the presence of another person as the lyrics examine fear associated with loving another, asking “why do we make love when love seems to hate us?” Atwood’s staccato and spatially limited movements personify the sense of loss that unrequited love evokes.
The performance ends with Wilson and Henry in another pas de deux entitled “First Time,” dancing to Roberta Flack’s Grammy-award winning rendition of “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (1972). The piece ends in a loving, serene, and complimentary embrace signaling the plausibility of acceptance, peace, and valuing same-gender love and relationships.
With the exception of “Swing Out, “Walk with Me, and “Sweet Poison, which had their world premieres during the Saturday performance, the other pieces have been previously performed perhaps emerging as part of the company’s repertoire for “Black to Silver.”
At the conclusion of the performance, Short expressed surprise that each year there is an audience for his “Black to Silver.” A near-full house attests to the on going interests in the African American LBGTQ community. Short mentioned that a national LBGT organization has expressed interest in staging “Black to Silver,” thus hopefully making it available to a national audience. Let’s hope that Short and Dissonance Dance can sell out every seat next year in DC and throughout the US.
Dissonance Dance Theatre, Washington DC’s only African-American operated contemporary ballet company, is the resident professional dance company of Ngoma Center for Dance. It teaches classes in ballet, modern dance, and choreography. Further information can be obtained from its website http://www.ddtdc.org/summer-dance-lab.html – !about.