Washington Troupe Shows Spirit, Energy

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The Lula Washington Dance Theatre was off to a fast start on Saturday night at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre. Looking up to the stars, singer Laurence Hill called for the great spirit of movement to send down strength and power--and lo and behold, there it was in the first piece.

“Koffi Koko African Dance Improvisation” did not look improvised, but nobody minds when movement still seems as if it has just arisen from a wildly delicious thought. First made by West African choreographer Koko, then directed by Tamica and Lula Washington, the piece featured Mataji Booker, Shari Washington-Rhone and Keisha Clarke, who all flowed like silk and flashed like diamonds. Each in her own mood mixed well-tempered extensions with swivels and rapid angular progressions, tampering with timing in dexterous ways.

In Donald McKayle’s compelling “Songs of the Disinherited,” that kind of kinetic style and substance was still in evidence, especially when it came to the finely etched gesture and a soaring jump of Bernard Brown. In Tamica Washington’s “Funky Stomp,” the energy came from the presence of vibrant student dancers joining in a fairly unfocused tap-and-jazz jam.


And in Lula Washington’s “Mahal Dances,” well, the energy just got out of hand, unless you like to see mature, skilled dancers play would-be, funky 9-year-olds, twitching hips and making faces. Bouncing along on the surface of several Taj Mahal songs, they also paused to chant children’s play songs.

Two duets offered a chance to slow down, but the subtlety that makes dramatic moments work was harder to come by. In an excerpt from McKayle’s “Daughters of the Garden” Clarke and Abelardo Cisneros looked uncomfortable in the intertwining lifts. In Stefan S. Wenta’s “Mater Dolores,” a touching study of mother and son interaction, Brown and Nabachwa Ssensalo fared better.

The evening ended with a combination revival-meeting/psychodrama called “I Feel Like Bustin Loose,” with percolating reggae-rock music by Wadada on stage. Surely a ‘60s-style happening was not what the dance gods had in mind, but who knows.