Dimensions Dance Theater Presents Spring Program in Oakland
Dimensions Dance Theater has announced its spring program, April 6 - 7, at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, featuring world premieres by two of its longtime company members: Erik Lee and Latanya Tigner. Tickets for the event are $20 to $35 and may be purchased online at eventbrite.com.
Lee, who joined Dimensions in 2011, views dance as a branch of his Christian ministry. "My mission is always to draw others toward living their best life with love for themselves and others," said Lee. Titled Armed With Joy, Lee's new piece explores the idea that joy is the best bulwark against the inevitable slings and arrows life sends. "Joy allows us to see hardship as an opportunity rather than a punishment or reason for despair," added Lee. Set to a mix of South African house and gospel music, Armed With Joy is a celebratory work for Dimensions' full company, including Lee himself.
Tigner, who joined the company in 1986 and who concurrently serves as co-artistic director of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, has had several of her original works commissioned by Dimensions over the years. Sanctuary, her newest, examines different ideas of safety, both in places of solitude and of community. "Sanctuaryquestions whether there's safety in freedom, and in turn whether there's freedom in safety," said Tigner, who draws on historical examples from apartheid-era South Africa as well as the United States.
"I'm using one song by Hugh Masekela, the great South African jazz artist who passed away last year. 'Stimela' is about the train that took people to the gold mines to labor. The workers weren't allowed to talk, so they developed a nonverbal language which evolved into what we now call gumboot dancing. This adaptation to hardship offered its own kind of sanctuary, and I'll be performing some gumboot dancing in one solo."
In another part of the work, the company will evoke a range of steps from African American social dance. "I've invited three other members of the company to contribute a short phrase from their respective backgrounds - Los Angeles line dancing, Detroit Hustle and house - that will be adapted into the larger whole. These are steps that invoke a joyful homecoming, a family reunion, and I want to bring some of that basement house party vibe into the theater."
As the oldest continuously operating African American dance company on the West Coast, Dimensions Dance Theater has been a leader in the movement to introduce African and African-derived dances in the United States, reconnecting generations of Americans with the cultural arts of their ancestors, while paying no heed to the old-fashioned orthodoxy that once kept instruction in classical ballet and modern dance separate from jazz, Haitian and other styles.
The presentation of We Have Ourselves is supported in part by grants from the City of Oakland Cultural Funding Program, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, San Francisco Foundation and Zellerbach Family Foundation. For more information visit dimensionsdance.org.
Photo: From left, Dorcas Mba, Marianna Hester, Phylicia Stroud and Erik Lee photographed by Edward Miller.