The Columbia Festival of the Arts audience attending Eva Anderson's Baltimore Dance Theatre's concert had more than just dance for excitement last night.
A false fire alarm at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre broke the concentration of the audience but not of Ms. Anderson's talented company, which continued the opening number despite the persistent buzzer.
Ms. Anderson bills her concerts as being in the African-American tradition, incorporating the five elements she says are necessary -- words, music, dance, spirituality and audience participating.
To this mixture, Ms. Anderson adds another ingredient: the blues.
Ms. Anderson's dances are a blend of the old and the new. She is a mature choreographer, and her dances draw on her wealth of personal and choreographic experiences. Unlike many choreographers, she is not afraid of collaboration, either with other choreographers, musicians, artists or dancers.
Her program of five works opened with "Chess Game," a collaborative effort with sculptor Anette Lawrence, and ended with "Muntu," a work that featured as guest performers "The Mighty Mickeez."
Within an oversize chess board and larger-than-life-size figures painted black and white, Ms. Anderson's troupe sought to resolve basic conflicts in "Chess Game." What's important here is not only the message of the dance, but the way the two artists work together to get their message clearly across.
At first the sculpture serves as background as the dancers work out their themes of alienation, control and confrontation.
"Kadija," a work for seven dancers, has come a long way since its first performance earlier this year. It looks more self-assured, more polished. Three separate groups of dancers adroitly juggle the rhythms of music by Edris Mohammad. They shift the rhythmic emphasis to various body parts -- hips, elbows, legs and arms. When the music shifts from playful percussion to a cooler jazz note, the dancers respond with an abstraction of their previous movements.
"Kadija" not only explores the overt rhythms heard in the music, but displays a variety of dance styles from African to modern dance.
Ms. Anderson always speaks before her dances are shown, and she prefaced the second half of the program with the idea that her dances all sought to explore what she calls "the new man."
"Tear the Heart," by Brazilian choreographer Lourdes Bastos, is an allegory that uses the Latin rhythms and a sense of ritual to proclaim its dramatic themes. Yet its form is decidedly abstract. There are seemingly narrative fragments, like a broken pot where one tries to put the designs back together.
Ms. Bastos' choreography is cosmopolitan and full of vitality, and her dance daringly combines modern and primitive sensibilities.