Perhaps the most remarkable feat performed by the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in their recent visit (lectures, demonstrations and the performance reviewed here) wasn't the height of the leaps they achieved in the first dances, though that was pretty darn impressive. Rather, it was the brio and agility the company showed in the last part of the last dance -- when mere mortals might have been exhausted. Though founder Jeraldyne Blunden passed away in November (movingly remembered by Dance St. Louis' Sally Brayley Bliss in a preshow introduction), the company is clearly at the top of its game (and with none of the problems usually associated with the top, such as no place to go). The range of musical/dance styles showcased in the four pieces presented at the Edison Theatre was wide and suggests that DCDC has an adventurousness that other companies (hello, Urban Bush Women) would do well to heed. They acknowledged and celebrated the past -- performing "Mourner's Bench," which was originally choreographed in 1947 -- but also presented several world premieres.
Two dances used the entire company: "Sets and Chasers" and "Children of the Passage," the latter featuring live music by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The former is accompanied by an eerie but infectious recording of a Duke Ellington Orchestra performance at a ballroom dance in Fargo, N.D., on Nov. 7, 1940. (This is a medley -- the "chasers" are the breaks between sets.) The men and women of the company wear casual period dress (blousy pants and untucked shirts for the men, swinging culottes for the women) and weave an elaborate courtship ritual from the bare bones of a Lindy hop, an uptown strut and various swing moves. Choreographed by Kevin Ward (who, with Maurita Elam, also designed the costumes), "Sets and Chasers" shows a troupe practicing "riffs," as it were, such as Veronica Green and Greer Reed-Walton's brief and beguiling pas de deux in which Green attempts to mimic Reed-Walton's polished moves.
"Children of the Passage," accompanied by the Dirty Dozen -- who keep a fine backbeat but have much shorter melody lines and a more New Orleans sound -- required more ensemble work. This five-part dance "follows a party of decadent lost souls that are haunted and later rescued by spirits that reconnect them to their ancient and ancestral character." Sheri Williams gets to play a resurrected corpse. This powerfully built woman, smaller than the other dancers by a head, is capable of a fury of movement and, then, absolute stillness.
Speaking of stillness, G.D. Harris' rendition of "Mourner's Bench" was graceful and surprisingly controlled. Accompanied by a choral version of "There Is a Balm in Gilead," this solo is performed on a bench. Clad only in white trousers, Harris -- with his long leg extensions and taut arm gestures -- summoned up acceptance but not resignation.