New Dance Horizons IV: Celebrating Black History Month

By Raphael Maurice
In Culture

In honor of Black History Month, Dance St. Louis returns with a tribute that unites three world-famous choreographers inspired by comedian and activist Dick Gregory, jazz musician Miles Davis and wordsmith Maya Angelou. All three iconic figures, if I’m not mistaken, have their appropriate stars on Delmar Avenue, and on Feb. 26 and 27, those stars will rise once again in the form of dance at the Touhill Center. I had the chance to speak to two of the dancers, Darrell Hyche and Alicia Graf Mack, both of whom have had stunning careers in the world of performing arts.

Photo by Steve Truesdell

Photo by Steve Truesdell

Where did you study dance, and what drew you to the art in the first place?

DH: I received my BFA in Dance Performance from Missouri State University. Growing up, I was more interested in acting. Acting led me to musical theater and dance. Dance really gave me an outlet for expression that differed from acting. The simplicity of having movement and music is what ultimately drew me in.

AGM:  I grew up in Columbia, Maryland, and I studied at the Ballet Royale at the institute of Maryland. I came out of the womb dancing. My mom is a professor, but her hobby was modeling. She would teach the girls how to pose and walk. By 2 years old, I surprised her by getting the poses and moves, and my mother put me in dance classes and creative classes. As I got older, it became more serious, and that’s all she wrote.

Who are some dancers you admired along the way or perhaps first caught your attention?

DH: I was drawn to dance during the height of shows like “So You Think You Can Dance.” Dancers like Danny Tidwell initially made me want to train and hone my own skills. It wasn’t until I started truly studying dance that I began to find inspiration from the likes of Alvin Ailey & Merce Cunningham. These days, I am also inspired by artists like T. Lang and Camille A. Brown.

AGM: The first was Cynthia Gregory, a ballerina. She was an unusually tall ballerina. I had posters of her in my room. It’s nice to see someone in your own image, a dancer that inspires you as a role model. I love the work of Alvin Ailey, and I used to watch his company when I was smaller. Sylvie Guillam was a French ballerina that inspired me as well.

At NDH IV, what might the audience expect to see for the February performances?

DH: This installment of New Dance Horizons will showcase the range in expression illustrated by many notable black artists. Jazz can be split up into many different categories like smooth jazz, experimental, new age, etc. Through the eyes of the three choreographers, audience members will see a similar range in influences that these artists can have on choreography.

AGM: Well, this is the fourth year of New Dance Horizons. I think every year the quality of the performance increases. It gives a chance for audiences in St. Louis to see their own companies step up, and to see the dancers step up to the challenge. I think the audiences will enjoy the performance.  I hope they’re transported emotionally, uplifted and inspired. 

The choreographers are drawing from Dick Gregory—a favorite of mine—to Maya Angelou and Miles Davis.  How do these artists play out their roles, so to speak, within the dance and choreography?

DH: The works of these artists really engulf the choreography. While working with Bebe Miller, she would lay the intent of one piece of music on a bit of choreography and have us overlap that onto an entirely different song. For me, this enriched the movement quality and allowed me to fully immerse myself in the dance. Miles Davis’ music is so multidimensional. The movement serves to explore those dimensions.

AGM: I can speak to Dianne McIntyre’s work. I am sure that all three will be very unique, powerful, and I think they will force the audience to face a substantial, intellectually driven performance as well. I think the artists that the choreographers chose are all intellectuals, whether they were artists, dancers or poets. Maya Angelou’s poem is spoken and is essentially the music for the piece. Dianne actually choreographs around either literally what the poem says or around the poem itself.

What does Black History Month signify to you?  What do you hope for this performance in February and beyond?

DH: As a black man, every month is Black History Month. February is just the month where people listen to me boast about it. It truly is a time of reflection and admiration for all that black people have done and continue to do. By bringing in black choreographers and using inspiration from black poets and musicians, we have created a unique opportunity to examine three separate takes on the forms that the Black experience can take. With this taking place in St. Louis during our current social climate, hopefully it’ll start a conversation or two.

PNC Arts Alive “New Dance Horizons IV: A Celebration Inspired by St. Louis’ Legendary Black Artists”  will be at Touhill Performing Arts Center on Friday, Feb. 27 and Saturday, Feb. 28. Tickets are available at dancestlouis.org

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