The stage at Jim Rouse Theatre is about to take a beating from some of the most talented feet in the world.
During Columbia Festival of the Arts, which begins tomorrow, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company will showcase several pieces celebrating the 100th anniversary of flight. Rennie Harris Puremovement will perform a new work, "Facing Mekka," grounded in hip-hop dance.
International dance star Mikhail Baryshnikov will provide a grand finale for the festival with performances June 28 and 29.
The three groups "were chosen because of the diversity they represent," said Stewart J. Seal, executive director of Columbia Festival of the Arts. "The festival typically has two or three dance offerings as part of its annual bill."
The Dayton company and Rennie Harris have performed at the festival before.
Dayton Contemporary Dance Company - nicknamed DCDC - is in its 35th season. Founder Jeraldyne Blunden learned to dance during a time of racial segregation, when two prominent teachers - and founders of the Dayton Ballet - started classes for black children.
Blunden became a professional dancer and later started a school, said Debbie Blunden-Diggs, Jeraldyne's daughter and DCDC's assistant artistic director. In 1968, she decided she should create a top-level company in her hometown, Dayton, Ohio.
Blunden died in 1999, but the group that she started tours the world blending ballet, modern and jazz dance techniques.
The company, under artistic director Kevin Ward, wanted to join in Dayton's celebration of the Wright brothers' first successful flight 100 years ago. In 2000, it began commissioning works by top choreographers in modern dance on the theme of flight.
"We never gave them instruction any further than that," Blunden-Diggs said. "The things that came back are quite a diverse showing of how they interpret flight in dance."
Next month, the flight project will make its debut in Ohio. But June 27, patrons in Columbia can see the group perform dances by Bill T. Jones, Bebe Miller and Warren Spears, as well as a nonflight piece by Ward.
DCDC also tries to build audiences for modern dance, particularly among African-Americans. The group often holds workshops and lectures in a community before a performance. It will conduct a three-day dance institute in Columbia from June 24 to 26.
The Rennie Harris dance company also has been working in the local community, helping a group of middle and high school youths prepare a program of dance and drama. That will be showcased Tuesday at Rouse Theatre.
On Sunday, the professional dancers will perform Harris' latest creation, "Facing Mekka."
Harris, 39, first taught hip-hop dance when he was 14 and started his dance company in 1992 in his native Philadelphia. According to the company Web site, Harris works to provide a "sincere view of the essence and spirit of hip-hop rather than the commercially exploited stereotypes portrayed by the media."
"Facing Mekka" incorporates original music, dance and videography. In addition to hip-hop dance, it uses traditional African movements, Harris said.
The music also draws influences from other cultures, including Scottish bagpipes.
"I look at it as a journey, so to speak ... a spiritual journey," Harris said. Beyond that, he would like to put forth his ideas and "whatever they get from it, they get from it," he said.
"The dance component really has been a centerpiece of the festival ... for a very long time," said Ronald Schimel, president of the board of trustees of Columbia Festival of the Arts. "This year, we have kind of eclipsed ourselves by having Baryshnikov dance twice."
Baryshnikov's performances, "Solos with Piano - an Evening of Music and Dance With Mikhail Baryshnikov," will include a series of new works by choreographers Lucinda Childs, Michael Clark, Cesc Gelabert and Tere O'Connor. Pedja Muzijevic will play piano accompaniment.
The festival will include some well-known acts and introduce some lesser-known performers over the next two weeks.
The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Bo Diddley, Philip Glass and the Del McCoury Band are among the familiar names coming to Howard County. Also scheduled are fiddle music and step-dancing from a group called Leahy and Afro-Cuban hip-hop funk from Yerba Buena.
The Second City comedy troupe and Reno will offer laughs, and Sekou Sundiata and Aquila Theater Company of London will offer drama.
"Each year, we try to go for the sure things," Schimel said, referring to the well-known artists, "and we also go for things that will help us to grow artistically as an audience."
Information: 410-715-3089, or www.columbiafestival.com.