Dayton Contemporary Dance Company prepares historic concert

‘In Modern Moves’ features Paul Taylor’s legendary ‘Esplanade.’

Be prepared for more Black history to be made during Black History Month as Dayton Contemporary Dance Company presents “In Modern Moves” Feb. 17-18 at the Victoria Theatre.

In one of the biggest coups in its 55-year history, DCDC is the first African American dance company to receive Paul Taylor’s 1975 masterpiece “Esplanade” into its repertoire. Taylor’s acclaimed routine features everyday, pedestrian movement — standing, skipping, sliding, falling, running, walking — set to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Called “a masterpiece of physical joy,” the work serves as the concert centerpiece and will be performed to live music by the Springfield Symphony Orchestra under Peter Stafford Wilson’s direction.

“To be able to add ‘Esplanade’ to our repertory is pretty amazing, especially a work of this stature,” says DCDC Artistic Director Debbie Blunden-Diggs, daughter of DCDC founder Jeraldyne Blunden. “For me, it helps broaden the scope of who DCDC is as a repertory African American dance company so that we don’t find ourselves in any one box. We have some amazing dancers and we like to challenge our dancers and our audiences. This is a piece you wouldn’t normally see on a Black company and we get to be the first African American ensemble that does this work.”

From his early days as founder of his esteemed New York-based dance company in 1954 until his death in 2018, Taylor helped define modern dance in America. He was a 1992 Kennedy Center Honors recipient and 1993 National Medal of Arts recipient. Blunden-Diggs says the opportunity to present his work is meaningful for the company in many ways, particularly regarding relationship-building.

“Mr. Taylor has a vast body of work and this is a classic,” she said. “His company still performs ‘Esplanade’ regularly, and we will have guests from the Paul Taylor Dance Company with us (in rehearsals). It is not only forging new relationships as far as being able to present dance, but we have had a wonderful relationship with the Paul Taylor Dance Company ever since they invited us to do ‘Rainbow’ in 2016. I feel this is an extension of that.”

Knowing “Esplanade” will be performed within an African American context also gives credence to Taylor’s work having the power to be influential all over again.

“Part of the beauty of dance is it’s held in the vessel of the dancers that are actually dancing the piece,” Blunden-Diggs said. “In a repertory company, you hold true to the nature of the piece but you’ll see Black bodies doing the piece. We are surrounded by the essence of Mr. Taylor even though he is not here himself. And it’s a beautiful thing.”

‘A hats off to modern dance’

The concert will also feature two works by Talley Beatty (1918-1995) representing a span of time from Reconstruction to the Great Migration (“Mourner’s Bench,” “The Stack Up”) as well as DCDC Senior Artistic Advisor Kevin Ward’s “And Each (*New) Day” which examines the “cumulative power of ‘we the people.’”

“This entire (concert) is like a hats off to modern dance (hence) the title ‘In Modern Moves,’” Blunden-Diggs said. “Talley’s works are modern dance classics. And Kevin is an amazing choreographer. It’s great to be able to have Kevin’s work active in our repertory. He is such a part of the blueprint of this organization and it’s great to have him back under roof after 15 years.”

Inspired by Marge Piercy’s poem “The Low Road,” “And Each (*New) Day” centers on the concept of how large social movements form and gain power such as the civil rights movement. Ward’s work was originally presented in 2019 during DCDC’s 50th anniversary season. The opportunity for him to reassess his original vision has led to a clearer, stronger idea of theme, tone and uniformity.



“In looking at the piece and reviewing the work, I have reduced it to more of an abstraction of the idea in the hope that it better captures the spirit of accumulating power and accumulating bodies,” Ward says. “Even the costumes have changed in order for them to be more uniformed across the board for everyone.”

He also praises Beatty and Taylor for creating challenging works that appeal as exciting forms of education and entertainment.

“Talley Beatty was an amazing technician who probably doesn’t get enough credit for the phenomenal dancer he was,” Ward says. “‘Mourner’s Beach’ is a breathtaking solo that will be performed by Aaron Frisby, who is doing an excellent job. ‘The Stack Up,’ a snapshot of the disco era with great music (including) Earth, Wind & Fire, is a metaphor for how different segments of society stack up on top of each other and meet in common spaces such as a disco. It (conveys) the fun and tragedy that ensue from those encounters. Dayton is still learning what modern dance is and who are the great people involved with the creation of modern dance, but ‘Esplanade’ is a wonderful, human, approachable, fun and poignant work.”

How to go

What: DCDC presents “In Modern Moves”

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17-18

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

Cost: $15-$75

Discount: DCDC’s “In Modern Moves” and Dayton Ballet’s “Swan Lake” (Feb. 16-18) share the same weekend. Both organizations have partnered for a special discount. You can get 15 percent off when you buy a ticket to each show. Use the promo code DUET15 when purchasing. If you are a current “In Modern Moves” ticket holder, you can get 15 percent off your “Swan Lake” ticket by using the discount code MOVES15 at checkout. This offer applies to all seats in level A-D.

Tickets: 937-228-3630 or

More info: “In Modern Moves” opens with “Esplanade” so be sure to arrive promptly.

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