Dallas Black Dance Theatre
Fri. Oct. 3, 7:30 p.m.
Gaillard Municipal Auditorium
77 Calhoun St.
Ann Williams isn’t looking for much.
Just the perfect fit.
She’s seen dancers come and go, but what’s most important when it comes to stocking her dance stable — aside from exceptional dance skill, training, and education — is finding a dancer with the right state of mind.
“They have to be open-minded and grounded,” Williams says. “They have to blend in with the company, have a good head on their shoulders, know how to carry themselves. We’re in Texas, so I need someone who can live in the South. Someone who doesn’t do this can break a company.”
Williams ought to know.
Since 1976, she’s been the director of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, one of five regional African-American dance companies funded by the National Endowment for Arts. She and her company are returning to Charleston on Oct. 3 to perform at the 25th annual MOJA Festival.
“There will be something for everyone,” she says from her office in Dallas.
That might not be true.
There will only be something for everyone if you like dance that’s “beautiful,” “fantastic,” “emerging,” and “spiritual” (her words). If you’re looking for something soulless and ugly, you’ve come to the wrong place.
The Charleston performance, Williams says, is the latest of many appearances in the Lowcountry. It includes pieces by Ben Stevenson, director of the Texas Ballet Theater and by Christopher L. Huggins, a protégé of the Alvin Ailey, as well as a work set to music by the late Ray Charles.
“It’s going to be a spiritual journey,” she says.
Williams has seen dance take enormous steps in the past three decades. While many companies continue to offer standard works, like Swan Lake, more are doing what her company has always done — looking to new and emerging artists for modern and contemporary modes of expression.
“Dance now has adapted to the audience,” she says.
There’s more of a mix now, she says, because that’s what audiences want. And that’s also what choreographers and directors want, because they are young, too, more in sync with the cultural currents of new generations of dance fans.
“They are looking for something they can identify with,” Williams says.
Young choreographers are interested in what’s happening right now — the Iraq War, poverty, digital culture, and sex. Contemporary themes like this give new pieces a leg up on older works, which may appear too abstract for young audiences.
“Young choreographers are more in tune,” she says. “And they don’t try to be all things to all people, because they know they can’t. They try to affect as many people as they can, but not all of the people.”
Black dancers have also changed a lot, she says.
They go to good schools and train with good companies. The barriers that existed when Williams started her company are now permeable. Which is not to say that black dancers face no restrictions, she says. But whatever hardships they face now, they face them in the mainstream of the dance world, not on the margins.
“Black dancers are more multicultural than they used to be,” she says. “And many of them work with white companies.
“So a lot has changed.”