“I still feel the pain of the decision,” says DCDC Artistic Director Debbie Blunden- Diggs, daughter of DCDC founder Jeraldyne Blunden. “No matter how tough the situation, the rule is you don’t cancel the art. But we ran up against a situation that if we wanted to continue with the rest of our season, that was the decision that had to be made. It was a hard decision so that’s why I’m so excited about it this year.”
“In the Spirit of…” is not an annual showcase which makes its appearance more anticipatory. Blunden-Diggs says the concert’s impetus grew from a desire for the troupe to reconnect with the Black community and reaffirm their support.
“We were touring a lot and I felt there was a sense that the Black community felt that they didn’t need us,” she says. “So, I wanted to find something that said DCDC belonged to them. This company started as a community-based organization and we’re going to remain that way. ‘In the Spirit of…’ was able to pull the Black community back in. It was created to touch them where they live.”
The joyful 90-minute concert of song and dance illuminates the African-American experience stemming from the African-American church. However, Blunden-Diggs acknowledges the complexities and nuances in tone that fashions the routines.
“This is liturgical dance produced for the proscenium stage,” she explains. “When you dance in a church sanctuary, you often can’t dance with music, gospel or not, with a thumping bass. Most churches want something more serene. And we can do that too, but it can be bigger than that. I wanted to create the place and palette for that.”
In addition to Blunden-Diggs’ celebrated routine “In My Father’s House,” the concert will feature original choreography by fellow DCDC administrative staff members Crystal Michelle, Qarrianne Blayr, Shonna Hickman-Matlock and Kevin Ward.
“The creators of the production are the artistic leadership,” Blunden-Diggs says. “And all the songs are inspirational and includes Christmas fare. This music has gotten us through since slavery. It’s about support, belief, faith and hope. Hope more than anything. As we usher in the holiday season, we need a little more hope and this performance will provide a moment for all of us to be uplifted.”
‘The soul of gospel’
DCDC Music Director Deron Bell and Music Production Manager Eldridge Coats has coordinated selections combining holiday and gospel favorites accompanied by a community choir, instrumentalists within the Music in Motion band, and guest vocalists including the Ditto Girls gospel singers and the Children of the Temple Youth Choir from Phillips Temple Church in Trotwood.
“We want to keep the roots and the soul of gospel as we also look at elements at all different types of styles and approaches,” says Bell, who has provided musical direction for “In the Spirit of” since 2009. “We want to continue to grow and give our audience something special and something that’s not predictable.”
He is also motivated by the introspectiveness of the concert’s theme.
“The title speaks for all,” Bell says. “It’s the spirit the vocalists bring to the table. It’s the spirit the musicians deliver. Whatever is inside you impacts what you do and how you do it. And in the times that we live in right now, we also need more grace.”
‘We want to inspire people’
Above all, Blunden-Diggs stresses the importance of allowing the community inside for the upbuilding of the organization.
“This concert is a way to bring community into the circle in a participatory manner instead of sitting and enjoying us beyond the fourth wall,” she says. “People have told me how grateful they were to have been a part of this experience. We are allowing people to be a part of a historic institution’s programming that puts them in a space and place with us in front of their community.”
She also holds the opportunity to inspire the community in high regard.
“Over the years, people from all different sorts of religious backgrounds have said to me that this is the place where everybody can come together and feel the same thing,” she says. “We want to inspire people. When this show comes together it is something really special and magical.”
HOW TO GO
What: “In the Spirit of… Grace”
When: Dec. 2-3; 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St., Dayton
More info: daytonlive.org