DCDC ‘Black Tour’ champions Black dance, culture

World premiere slated Feb. 4-5 at Victoria Theatre.

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC) is preparing an all-encompassing celebration of Black identity with its world premiere launch of “The Black Tour,” slated Saturday, Feb. 4 and Sunday, Feb. 5 at the Victoria Theatre.

Billed as “a holistic journey through art and cultural experience,” the production will be told through four performance narratives. After the premiere, the company plans to present the works in museums, galleries and Historically Black Colleges and University (HBCU) spaces nationwide.

The four works to be presented are: Tommie-Waheed Evans’ “Home/An Untitled Portrait”; Katherine Smith’s “Strong Like We”; Crystal Michelle’s “American Mo’”; and Ronald K. Brown and Donald McKayle’s “Children of the Passage.”

Credit: Hiromi Platt Photography

Credit: Hiromi Platt Photography

“This is a stellar program that represents us in all of our Blackness,” said Debbie Blunden-Diggs, DCDC artistic director. “I don’t want to shy away from that because there’s no reason to. We are who we are. We are the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, an African American or Black dance company, and we do works that speak of or to the Black experience. In this program we are telling stories of the Black point of view from the vantage points of four different choreographers.”

Smith is a former DCDC company member who serves on the dance faculty of Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. Michelle, also a former DCDC company member, serves as DCDC associate artistic director.

“‘American Mo’' is a prolific tribute – in abstract form and literally – to the work of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Blunden-Diggs. “‘Children of the Passage,’ which I consider DCDC’s signature work and is (staged) to the music of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, will close the show. The actual collection of works in (”The Black Tour”) is seven but the (premiere) program can only hold four. Depending on where we perform, the program will rotate all (seven) works but the one work that will always stand will be Tommie-Waheed’s intimate piece, which is the anchor. I’m happy to have a piece in DCDC’s repertory by Tommie-Waheed Evans, who is now becoming all the buzz in the dance community.”

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Introducing Tommie-Waheed Evans

Evans, a Los Angeles native based in Philadelphia, is a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow. He describes himself as a “queer Black dance maker” whose works explore “Blackness, spirituality, queerness and liberation.”

He received a fellowship at the Ailey School and a Master of Fine Arts in Choreography from Jacksonville University. He toured and performed nationally and internationally as a company member of Lula Washington Dance Theater, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Philadanco. His professional appearances include the sitcom “The Parkers,” the Emmy Awards and “Radio City Christmas Spectacular.” Since 2006, waheedworks, his Philadelphia-based company, has been his chief creative laboratory. He is currently the Artist-in-Residence at Philadanco and on faculty at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Staged to the music of gospel artist Cleopatra Kennedy and Emmy, Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar, “Home/An Untitled Portrait” is inspired by Black family life. The piece was conceived last May and Evans will return to Dayton at the end of January for additional refinements.

“It’s about the Black experience many of us have seen or actually lived through,” he said. “I reference a type of cycle that is shown in Black cinema such as ‘Cooley High’ and ‘Boyz n the Hood.’ It’s a central theme we can say we’ve seen such as Black ghetto life with the single mom or the young man who gets caught up on the wrong side of the tracks. It’s the narratives that have lived in urban culture that we know so closely and dearly.”

As an emerging choreographer gaining prominence in the dance world, Evans is pleased to be a part of the changing storytelling landscape of Black art in America, especially in today’s post-George Floyd climate.

“The Black story, the Black narrative, is expansive now and full-bodied,” he said. “We don’t have to code switch or tone it down. We can talk about Black people living a cultured, complex and nuanced life. The Black voice in arts is being seen from different layers and lenses – not just trending lenses. Something has shifted that needed to be shifted and has made it all unapologetic.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

A longtime fan of DCDC, Evans is also proud to have his imprint as part of the organization’s enduring legacy.

“DCDC has always been a company I’ve known about,” he said. “I also supported them when they would perform in New York City. With DCDC, I feel like I’m home. It feels like I’m at my grandmother’s house with a plate ready for me when I walk in the door. From the first day I interacted with the artistic staff to the first day in the studio with the dancers, I have developed a deep love and admiration for what the organization stands for. DCDC is so well known and has such historical power. It is an honor to say I have a work (produced by) a company that has so many American masterpieces – not just Black masterpieces.”

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Intentional programming

Blunden-Diggs welcomes “The Black Tour” as a prime entertainment option for audiences in conjunction with Black History Month. The company’s primary goal is executing the world premiere with excellence.

“The fact that ‘The Black Tour’ launches during Black History Month is intentional,” Blunden-Diggs stated. “We are a Black company 365 days a year. However, if I can raise us to the top of Black History Month and get people to recognize who we are – a company started by a Black woman in the middle of the Civil Rights era – it’s important. We are wrapping ourselves in a blanket of Blackness and it’s all connected. If you don’t come see DCDC any other time, support us during Black History Month.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

HOW TO GO

What: DCDC’s “The Black Tour”

Where: Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St., Dayton

When: Feb. 4-5; Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 4 p.m.

Cost: $15-$61.50

Tickets: 937-228-3630 or visit daytonlive.org

FYI: The Central State University Jazz Ensemble is slated to perform during “The Black Tour” performance pre-show on Saturday and Sunday.

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