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Review: Black Dance Festival brings compelling choreography to life

| Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, 10:32 a.m.

REVIEW

Many kinds of talents were on display Friday night at the uplifting opening performance of the second annual Black Dance Festival at the August Wilson Center, Downtown. Compelling choreography was brought to life with irresistible spirit by the center's resident ensemble, all to excellent music.

Yet there was an unexpected skill that shined through, in addition — the improvisatory ability of artistic director Greer Jones to adapt to adversity. The second half of Friday's program was to have been “Mr. Tol E. Rance” by Camille A. Brown performed by her dance company, which is based in New York City. Planned transportation to Pittsburgh fell through in the wake of the storm Sandy. Finally, on Friday, Reed was forced to reshuffle her repertoire.

“Unwritten” by Antonio Brown began the evening with high energy and compelling narrative. Brown created the piece with the dancers of the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, who performed with absolute commitment. James A. Washington was the eloquent protagonist in a piece that begins with a breakup with his girlfriend. After a brief anguished dance in reaction, he re-enters bustling life. The choreographer's achievement includes ample invention and a nice sense of form.

Two of Camille A. Brown's performers were able to reach Pittsburgh. Thus, the audience was at least treated to a tantalizing excerpt from the longer work that had been scheduled.

Waldean Nelson was the soloist in “Sitcoms,” creating a broad range of emotions that changed with breathtaking speed. The most haunting image, repeated enough to be a theme, was bright hope (for approval?) draining away.

“The Real Cool” was performed to an imaginative and very pianistic arrangement by Brandon McCune of “What a Wonderful World.” Scott Patterson played it live onstage with a masterly blend of virtuosity, singing style and beautiful voicing.

Another work by Camille A. Brown, scheduled before Sandy to be performed by the center's dance ensemble, provided a hopeful comment on the recent storm. “Second Line” was created as a celebration of the spirit and culture of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

The second half featured two pieces by Terence Greene, who has taken a prominent role in educational activities associated with the Black Dance Festival. “Breath” is an ensemble piece. “Faith,” performed at the Gospel Showcase dance concert in October, was brought back to conclude Friday's performance.

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