For the 2017 Dogtown Presenter’s Series, local African-Caribbean community collective CLAVES UNIDOS took over Dogtown Dance Theatre to present to the Richmond public, “Ancestral Memories: It Takes A Language” over the weekend.
This performance featured various styles of African and Latin dance, from capoeira to bamba, and ran for about 75 minutes. Kevin LaMarr Jones is the production’s lead choreographer and the Artistic Director of CLAVES UNIDOS. Jones and other company dancers took to the stage to demonstrate that dance is a universal language, featuring performers Carla Jean-McNeil Jackson, Meoleaeke Jones, Lameka Brown, Judy Edwards, Aaron D’Anthony Brown, Marcia Burns, Shalandis Wheeler Smith, Leiah Springs, and William Sterling Walker.
Breaking traditions before the performance started, Jones’ dancers were littered around the audience, creating a sense that they were almost performers themselves. In the overture of the night, Jones emerged from beyond the stage’s dimension and began his solo to a comforting rendition of “The 23rd Psalm (dedicated to my mother)” by Cantus. The song moved his body with passion, showing just what was to be expected for the duration of the night. These synchronies piecing from the first few minutes followed through until the last, making “Ancestral Memories: It Takes A Language” a truly emotional work of genre-bending dance.
These most powerful moments stem from the individual, micro-stories that the production spins and tells. One such work, demonstrating a 10-year-old marriage that is rife with problems and uncertainty, began by the dancers entering the spotlights from opposite sides of the stage. The man and woman screamed over top of one another as they tried to clearly communicate to the audiences their grievances about the other. When words fail, the two begin dancing in individual discordant routines, personifying their own rocky waters.
My personal favorite piece of the night came from Meoleaeke “Monte” Jones. The work featured Monte and a young boy, bringing to life a scenario between a child and his father. The message was delivered through the featured style of dance: capoeira. These two dancers’ twisting motions, through a basic dancing routine of the capoeira, spoke on generational gaps and differences, but ultimately how things old and new can help communication. This piece’s powerful choreography hit home in an all too familiar dynamic while even demonstrating the dance style’s place in martial arts. Set to a heart-wrenching soft song, the woman next to me cried for the entire work.
“Ancestral Memories: It Takes A Language” ends on such a satisfying, tear-jerking note. As all the night’s performers sat in a broken circle around the stage, one by one they approached the center to nod back to their individual works. This brought every message presented back into the forefront, leaving the audience trying to glue the fragments of their recently shattered hearts. And the feeling continued clear to their closing bows. Jones and the rest of CLAVES UNIDOS welcomed every member of the audience at the performance’s conclusion to join them on stage for one last dance, creating yet another community where dance is the only language.
You can still catch “Ancestral Memories: It Takes A Language” this weekend at Dogtown Dance Theatre.
*Photos via Dave Parrish Photography