Review: Shades Dance Theater’s Atlanta debut showcased empowered youth

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Cameron Terry, an enterprising young artistic director, brought six accomplished New York-based dancers to town last Saturday for the Atlanta debut of Shades Dance Theater.

It was a homecoming for Terry, a native of Atlanta, whose compelling back story has everything to do with the spectrum of relationships shown in this production titled Love, Fantasy & Euphoria.

Facets of love ranged from Terry’s childhood memories of dancing with cousins at family barbecues, to grieving his mother’s death when he was just 14 years old, and from teenage romance to adult intimacy, with themes of Black love and LGBTQ love woven in.

Costumes by Taylor Barnett and lighting by Lydia Brinkman and David Reingold gave the production a professional finish. Brilliantly accomplished dancers from Dance Theatre of Harlem and The Ailey School were key to the program’s artistic success.

Shades Dance Theater
“Still in Love . . . Kissing You,” performed by Derek Brockington and Alexandra Hutchinson, opened the program. (Photo by David Reingold)

Also key was a supportive audience that nearly filled the Galloway School’s warmly elegant Chaddick Center for the Performing Arts. This and the apparent thoughtfulness behind every detail showed that Terry, at age 24, has the essentials of a strong company director.

Terry has degrees in dance and performing arts administration from the University of Oklahoma and New York University respectively. (Disclosure: this writer earned a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Oklahoma and later taught there from 2001-2008.) He has vision, great dancers, business acuity, personal magnetism and a supportive community around him.

Terry’s relative artistic youth was also apparent. Like many choreographers of the Alvin Ailey lineage, Terry blends aspects of classical ballet and Lester Horton modern dance technique with influences from West African and African diasporic dance forms, including American jazz dance.

Local choreographers Lonnie Davis (who taught Terry at the Cobb County Centre for Excellence in the Performing Arts) as well as Allyne D. Gartrell, founder and creative director of the Atlanta Dance Connection, and Waverly T. Lucas II, co-founder and co-artistic director of Ballethnic Dance Company, have also drawn from these sources to develop unique and sophisticated individual styles.

By comparison, Terry is near the start of his artistic trajectory. His forms were often repetitive and begged for deeper, subtler connection with his music choices, but his taste for technical virtuosity showcased the performers’ finesse.

And Terry is well positioned for growth. His New York base offers access to an artistic milieu that includes top level advisors and strong classical dancers who are versatile enough to perform a range of styles, and who represent African Americans on the concert dance stage.

Dancers Alexandra Hutchinson and Derek Brockington drew out the warm tones of singer Des’ree’s voice in Still in Love . . . Kissing You, a soft, neoclassical duet that captured the quickening pulse of young love in its early phases. Brockington partnered a radiant Hutchinson through quicksilver spins, lush arabesques and revolving lifts interspersed with gentle caresses.

He Loves Me, a solo to Lianne La Havas’ eponymous song, featured Micah Bullard (also a graduate of the University of Oklahoma). Bullard’s long fluid arms undulated upward, catching the music’s upbeats. His curved body shapes, sculpted to perfection, combined with sensual self-touch to express the longing and vulnerability of being completely in love.

Blues melodies on woodwinds soared over Cuban drum rhythms in Shades of Delight, set to Mongo Santamaría’s “Afro Blue,” passionately rendered by vocalist Dianne Reeves. David Wright and Delaney Washington moved through a playful unspooling of technical leaps and turns combined with smatterings of rumba, twerking and swing dancing. Washington was effervescent, her torso undulating as she tossed her head of brownish-blonde ringlet curls.

Shades Dance Theater
Bullard and Brockington in “Mr. & Mr. Poppy.” (Photo by David Reingold)

Bullard and Brockington appeared in Mr. & Mr. Poppy, a romantic encounter between two men. They seemed in equal measure needy and supportive of one another as they moved through crisp Horton turns and side-to-side weight shifts, their arms sculpting perfect S curves. To the funky bass line rhythms of Quincy Jones’ “The Poppy Girls,” the couple grew casual and approachable, holding hands side by side, unquestionably belonging together.

They bore witness to Wright’s ensuing solo, A Love Letter, set to Donny Hathaway’s “A Song for You.” With a sense of yearning, Wright moved through complex floor work inside a dim pool of light, its grid pattern suggesting isolation, as if he were struggling to free himself from emotional confinement.

The music volume went up and stayed there for the over-the-top pop concert style Naughty Naughty. To music by Beyoncé and Donna Summer, the dancers’ bumps, grinds and other explicit moves matched a 1970s disco vibe. The artists drove it home in a strong finale filled with energy and a sense of youthful empowerment. It seemed to represent Terry, a young voice charging forward who, if he perseveres, will likely gain nuance and uniqueness. There’s room to grow, but make no mistake — a new generation is here.

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Cynthia Bond Perry has covered dance for ArtsATL.org since the website was founded in 2009. One of the most respected dance writers in the Southeast, she also contributes to Dance Magazine, Dance International and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She has an M.F.A. in narrative media writing from the University of Georgia.



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