Former Dance Alloy director Beth Corning, now of The Glue Factory Project and more, once commented that Pittsburgh needed two more companies and 15 more dancers to have a viable dance community. Be careful what you wish for, Beth, because the competition is ramping up.
But this is about newly-appointed August Wilson Dance Ensemble, run by August Wilson Fellow and Dance Alloy artistic director Greer Reed-Jones. I have to say that I had a sense of deja vu as I attended the official inaugural performance at the slave ship-inspired building that is such a terrific addition to Pittsburgh’s performing arts scene. (Note that there is a strong dance component at the Center — a studio with a really grand revolving door and an auditorium with sight lines best served at the back of the orchestra and front of the balcony).
But back to deja vu. That was mostly a result of the programming. The performance opened with Terence Greene’s “Faith,” a piece that has been featured twice, first at the Pittsburgh Black Theatre Dance Ensemble in 2003 and then in the offshoot Pittsburgh Dance Ensemble in 2005. Greer had a hand in both, although they were essentially the same group with different titles. At the end of that first review, I wondered if Pittsburgh would take the company, essentially guest artists and students, to the next level. That didn’t happen and it faded after several years.
Now the August Wilson Center has thrown its considerable weight behind its new ensemble. Once again, Reed-Jones has shown her own talent in stirring the passions and dedication in these young dancers. Once again, she has kept her “Faith,” where a radiant Jasmine Hearn led the way, although she still needs to control her excitement for better impact.
Only this time, the group included a number of Point Park University dancers, including Hearn, instead of adult guest artists, giving the ensemble a grounded maturity that it lacked before, a sense of cohesion. Reed-Jones showed her discerning eye, picking off three of Point Park’s most prominent graduates — Naila Ansari, Angela Dice and James Washington.
Dice was under-utilized, but she showed that Point Park hasn’t graduated a better young artist with a such a chameleon-like knack for diverse styles. She literally immersed herself in each of the works, from Christopher Huggins’ Ailey-esque “Mothers of War” to the hip-hop inspired “Legacy” by Crystal Frazier. Likewise with Ansari, who projected an intensity that was so grounded, so real.Washington got a “Solo” by Antonio Brown. It showed that he’s a young dancer of uncommon control, with legs like pillars, but still with a sensitivity to the arc of the movement. Then there was tiny Kaylin Horgan, buzzing around the stage like a bee and a much-improved Raymond Ejiofor from Carnegie Mellon. But kudos to all of the dancers. And Gretchen Moore will be moving over to Dance Alloy.
All in all, it was a great outlet for Pittsburgh’s young talent and the audience responded enthusiastically. But then, I’ve seen it before and asked, “Will this community’s immense financial and administrative resources step forward, join hands and take [substitute the August Wilson Dance Ensemble] to the next level?”
Hopefully this was only the beginning.