“Three of the nation’s most renowned choreographers have been commissioned to create original works as part of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company’s 45th anniversary celebration.
The three world premieres will be showcased at the company’s Winter Concert, “ReVisioning 45: New Works Unveiled,” on Saturday, Feb. 8, and Sunday, Feb. 9, at the Victoria Theatre in downtown Dayton.
“It’s been great and very exciting,” says artistic director Debbie Blunden-Diggs about the major undertaking. “For this season my overall goal was to build a new repertory that would help catapult DCDC into the national context of the dance world.”
The chosen choreographers are Donald Byrd, Ronen Koresh, and Ray Mercer. A solo piece developed by Rodney A. Brown also will be featured.
Byrd made news for his Tony-nominated choreography on Broadway’s “The Color Purple.” Mercer is in the cast of Broadway’s “The Lion King.” Koresh and his company tour internationally and will be in our area this weekend as part of Cincinnati’s prestigious Contemporary Dance Theatre Season.
Brown’s work was created for dancer Sheri “Sparkle” Williams and is being presented in honor of her 2014 Individual Artist award by the Ohio Governor’s Awards for the arts.
DCDC has changed dramatically since its inception.
“Millions of things have changed,” says Blunden-Diggs, who can remember going to rehearsals and performances in the early years when her mother — Geraldine Blunden — founded the company. “It has gone from being a one-person staff to a staff of 12 administrators plus a board, and today has both a pre-professional and professional company.”
Blunden-Diggs believes her mother would have been extraordinarily proud of the today’s company but also concerned about the state of the arts in general.
Her challenge, she says, was to look at the artists she has and build a repertory that’s both easy to tour and attractive to presenters.
“I wanted to create a repertory that would excite them and make them want to bring our music to their cities,” she explains. “The overall project is named ‘ReVisioning 45’ and the goal is to present 10 new works in an 18-month period of time.”
Some of the work, like Brown’s piece for Williams, was created last season. His commission was related to the premiere of the documentary film “Sparkle.”
“I wanted to create a piece to show things that she can do — especially given her injury which became a focus for the film,” Brown says. ” I had created a piece with her years ago, and I asked her to be both an actor, dancer and performer. I learned just how versatile and talented she was.”
Blunden-Diggs says the pieces presented in the upcoming winter concert will become a signature part of DCDC’s collection.
Choosing the choreographers
She was looking, she says for “heavy-hitters,” choreographers with national and international recognition.
Byrd, she explains, had done previous work for DCDC. She’d been in touch with Mercer since she first became artistic director of the company. And she’d been admiring the work of Koresh from afar for years.
“It’s always a wonderful synergy when new dance is being created,” says Blunden-Diggs. “The choreographers came to Dayton over the past year one at a time to work with the dancers. It’s been great!”
She says the resulting works showcases the best of DCDC.
“Each work is very different and each work is one I believe will bring audiences to the edge of their seats,” she says. ” Ronen’s is very emotional; the technical prowess that dancers have to showcase in Donald Byrd’s work is beyond belief; Ray Mercer’s work is astounding and unpredictable.”
Blunden-Diggs says each choreographer works in a different way.
“Donald is very familiar with the caliber of work we do and he came with an open palette and canvas. Ray had never worked with us before but we started talking early on and his thought processes started before he got here. And Ronen, a master choreographer, has a collection of his own work and, came with some of his works in mind.”
What you’ll see
Donald Byrd’s new work is entitled “The Geography of the Cotton Fields.” Set for 11 dancers and lasting about 40 minutes, it’s the largest work to date commissioned for the ReVisioning 45 project. The music is by contemporary Brazilian composer Amon Tobin.
“I have a special place in my heart for the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company because Geraldine Blunden was one of the first people to commission my work,” says Bryd. “So I always feel its an honor and a privilege to come back here to work and to contribute in whatever way I can to the legacy of the organization, the company, and Geraldine.”
He says because DCDC dancers are not as grounded in what he terms “the old classic modern dance tradition,” they are able to incorporate some of the newer experimentations in contemporary dance aesthetics as well.
“Working with DCDC is always an intriguing experience for me,” Byrd says. “The dancers are very diverse in terms of their backgrounds racially and ethnically and so they bring different histories with them and different kinds of experiences and that creates a larger artistic palette to work with. I find that really interesting.”
Bryd says he wants audience members to use their own imaginations when viewing his work.
“The audience’s imagination in terms of their viewing the work is just as important as the artist’s imagination in the creation of it,” he insists.
Koresh says his work for 10 dancers is driven by simplicity, “a total transparency of movement without the showcasing of athleticism.”
“The approach I took with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company was very simple,” he explains. “I went back and looked at all the material that was available to me about the company because I wanted to create a work that was different for the dancers, different than what they were used to, a work that would challenge them physically and emotionally as well.”
Koresh, whose dance is called “Exit No. 7,” says his experience in Dayton turned out to be “fantastic.”
“I fell in love with the atmosphere that was created in that school and studio,” he says. “The dancers are hard-working, very generous and very eager to learn and grow as artists and as human beings. I was given all of the freedom I needed to be creative and was not blocked or censored in any way.”
Koresh says he’s a great believer in experiencing art through the skin — “an experience that is interpreted through the logic of the body versus the logic of the intellect. The journey that I want to take my audiences on is through a variety of emotions, colors, places, moods.”
Ideally, he says, he would like his audience to leave inspired and to create conversations about what they have seen.
“I would like the audience to stay open-minded and to allow what they see to make them feel alive,” he adds. ” I want the viewers to leave wanting to be creative themselves. And to share it with others.”
Choreographer and dancer Ray Mercer, who is currently in the Broadway cast of The Lion King, describes working with DCDC dancers as “pure joy.” His piece for the winter concert is entitled “Tossed Around.”
“This piece requires a lot of focus, it is not a piece you can “phone in,” he explains. ” It is extremely fast-paced, athletic, and requires a lot of technique. I knew that these dancers would work hard, but the amount of dedication put in this piece was amazing. All the artists really stepped up to the plate.”
Mercer says his piece is about being mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually tossed around.The chairs on stage represent the ways in which even the most consistent and stable things in our lives can be set aside and tossed around.
Mercer says he tries to approach dance and art from a humanistic point of view.
“It is innate in us as humans to feel,” he says. ” I would hope that when the audience leaves the theater they will walk away feeling, inspired, moved, excited, feeling something.”
How to Go:
What: “ReVisioning 45: New Works Unveiled,” DCDC’s Winter Concert
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9
Where: Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St., Dayton
Tickets: $31, $41 and $51. There’s a savings of 50 percent for groups of 10 or more.
Call Ticket Center Stage at 937-228-3630 or 888-228-3630 or www.ticketcenterstage.com.
MEET THE GUEST CHOREOGRAPHERS
Koresh, who was born and raised in Israel, formed Koresh Dance Company in 1991 and has since created a repertoire of more than 40 works. Although this is the first time he has worked with DCDC, he has performed in our area and his well-known dance company will be coming to Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center Feb. 1-2 as part of the city’s Contemporary Dance Theatre Season. Koresh is known for blending ballet, modern and jazz.
Koresh is a multi-year recipient of fellowships from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. His company tours extensively, both nationally and internationally, performing his work and the work of guest choreographers.
Donald Byrd became artistic director of Seattle’s Spectrum Dance Theater in December 2002. Before that, he served as artistic director of Donald Byrd/The Group, a contemporary dance company founded in Los Angeles and later based in New York, that toured extensively, both nationally and internationally.
He has created over 80 modern dance works for his own groups as well as the Alvin Ailey Company, the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, and Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco) and has choreographed for classical companies as well. He has also worked with some of the most prestigious theater and opera companies in the U.S., including New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, the Intiman Theater, San Francisco Opera, Seattle Opera and New York City Opera.
Byrd has served on the faculty of the California Institute for the Arts and taught at dance programs throughout the country. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Dance Theater Workshop in New York, was a fellow at The Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue at Harvard for three years and in 2006, and received a Tony nomination for his choreography for “The Color Purple.”
Byrd has been awarded a Mayor’s Arts Award for his sustained contributions to the City of Seattle, and has been selected among the first group of Fellows to the American Academy in Jerusalem.
Mercer won top honors for his choreography representing ‘The Lion King’ in the BC/EFA’s 17th Annual Gypsy of the Year Competition in 2005. His work also earned him The Michigan Dance Council Award and Chicago’s Black Theater Alliance Award.
He has served as resident choreographer for the All-City Dance Companies in Detroit and Chicago. His choreography has been commissioned by Dallas Black Dance Theater, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, and DRA: Dancers Responding to Aids/New York.
He was a company member of The Detroit City Dance Company, Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, and was a guest artist with Boston Ballet and Joel Hall Dancers. Mercer has taught extensively for schools and community outreach programs.
VIDEO: See choreographer Donald Byrd in action and hear DCDC’s artistic director Debbie Blunden-Diggs talk about the upcoming winter concert: MyDaytonDailyNews.com