It’s a rare treat when one finds oneself in the presence of five first ladies of dance whose collective energy wove a spiritual thread throughout the afternoon.
NJPAC’s Victoria Theater was the venue for such a treat on Dec. 11 and 12 with FLY: Five First Ladies of Dance including Germaine Acogny, Carmen De Lavallade, Dianne McIntyre, Bebe Miller and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar.
The performances were excellent and the range in dynamics of the five dancers-choreographers held the audience spellbound. Starting with “Rain” (1989) by Bebe Miller to “The Creation” (1972) re-created by Carmen De Lavallade, from James Weldon Johnson’s “God’s Trombones” choreographed, costumed and music by her husband Geoffrey Holder. There was a dramatic entrance from the audience by Francophone Germaine Acogny with an excerpt from Songook Yaakaar (Facing up to Hope) (2009) proclaiming a female president of Africa.
Germaine founded L’Ecole des Sables for young African and contemporary dancers and choreographers in Senegal where they practice on the sand. She hopes to provide a school for elder women who wish to learn movement and dance.
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar of Urban Bush Women demanded we “Bring ‘Em Home” second-line style. Dancing to the music of contemporary New Orleans marching band, Rebirth Brass Band, Zollar’s provocative theme spoke to the government’s mistreatment of the Hurricane Katrina survivors banished to other states and unable to come back to their homes in New Orleans.
A standing ovation was given to Dianne McIntyre who, along with pianist George Caldwell, a Broadway veteran, performed “If You Don’t Know…” and appeared to be floating on air most of the time, like a breath. Her unique collaboration with composer Olu Dara is indicative of her commitment to bringing dance and music together as one.
In a phone interview the following day, she revealed, “I like not to separate the dance and the music. So that through the dance people can hear the music and see the dance in the music, especially in the African American tradition.” When asked what she hopes will be her legacy, she replied, “I like history and so sharing history through my dances will be one of my legacies. Another will be to motivate the artist, particularly the dancer to really find his/her own voice and move forward with that voice. Not to be dictated by this style or that look, but to be encouraged to break out of the mold but at the same time honor tradition.”