Anderson, Baltimore Dance Theatre make strides

November 16, 1995|By J. L. Conklin | J. L. Conklin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Eva Anderson's Baltimore Dance Theatre is marking its 20th anniversary in a city in which dance companies have a precarious existence. Not only did the concert at the Baltimore Museum of Arts Saturday night attest to Ms. Anderson's perseverance of spirit, but the nearly packed house also confirmed her popularity.

The event also served as a ceremony -- as the torch of the company's artistic director was passed from Ms. Anderson to longtime company member Dr. Charles Carter.

Featured on this program was Ms. Anderson's "Beginnings," which premiered last spring, plus excerpts from several of her other works.

The premiere of Dr. Carter's "And Then There Were None" was sandwiched among the works of Ms. Anderson.

Dr. Carter's dance was constructed along the lines of a scholarly treatise on a social problem, yet his work was far more emotionally connected than any dry discourse.

He stated in the program, "We know that Black on Black crime exists; but when are we going to do something about it!" -- and his work encapsulated the issue in dramatic fashion.

Using the device of a radio DJ to set the stage, the dance faced the past to look at the future. Opening with "Urban Griots/Didn't you get the Message in 1969," Dr. Carter's dancers -- three women and two men attired in Afros, bell bottoms and --ikis -- revisited old dance styles to Roberta Flack's hopeful lyrics.

"Life and Times" put us in the present. Nicole Bell, F.T. Burden, Jill Blizzard, Jennifer Blizzard-Sykes, Isiaih Davis and Traci Gross-Johnson gave strong performances as they threw their bodies into the hip-hop parlance while moving to the music of George Duke.

Yet, it was the visual interpretation of Reg E. Gaines' poetry, "Please Don't Take My Air Jordans," that formed the dance's emotional and chilling core.

The third section, "Eternal Lullaby," was a lament for wasted youth. Danced by Ms. Gross-Johnson and Mr. Davis, the pair evoked pain and futility.

"And Then There Were None" was an auspicious beginning for Dr. Carter.

"Beginnings," the opening work, highlighted Ms. Anderson's wonderful story-telling skills. Progressing from abstract to narrative to a more linear construction, the work was Ms. Anderson's effort to let us know we should "Respect the earth, and respect each other."

Highlights among the seven excerpted works were the solo from "Deep Blues," performed by one-time company member Yvette Shipley; the duet from "Chess Game"; the imaginative "The Elephant"; and the austere and haunting "Winter of our Days."

The Baltimore Dance Theatre seamlessly overlaps techniques from Graham, classical ballet and African to contemporary street dances.

Sometimes there is a message, sometimes it's just dance, but the company always touches its audiences.

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