Lula Washington Dance Theater February 6, 2010
By Glen Creason
The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts seems to have become the place for excellence in modern dance as of late. Over the past season we have seen at least three of the finest companies practicing the art and on Saturday night hungry local dance-o-philes got another feast of the form from the Lula Washington Dance Theater. This troupe may mean just a little extra for local fans since Ms. Washington is a home grown artist, rising up out of the Nickerson Gardens projects of South Central Los Angeles and creating one of the most imaginative and vibrant concert experiences in modern dance. Certainly Lula Washington, a graduate of UCLA has done more than anyone in recent years around Southern California to bring the art of dance into the black community of Los Angeles. Of further interest is the active participation of associate director Tamica Washington-Miller who performed magnificently throughout the night and as a mature woman showed the mostly young group how the true art of dance comes from the heart and mind as much as it does from the body in motion.
This is an ensemble that pushes to the limits of the form and incorporates much of the rapidly changing digital age into the choreography. Case in point the first piece WWW.CONNECTIONS.2010 that juxtaposed the use of technology in connecting flesh and blood humanity. While couples connected with smart phones and text messages they also moved beautifully together with a harmony that only can be reached within a romantic heartbeat. During this segment there were themes that came unexpectedly to the surface now and then including the equality of women and the importance of electronic connectivity in communication. Part of the Lula Washington Dance experience is the lighting and on this night the bright colors and stark contrasts worked beautifully with the dance schemes especially in “Love Is” and the lengthy opening number that blended the music of Pachelbel, Michael Jackson and the Rolling Stones into one strangely cohesive statement. “We Wore the Mask” was marvelous with the passionate dancing of Tamica Washington-Miller and the unbelievably inventive drumming of master Marcus Miller. It’s not often you get a standing ovation at the intermission but this piece left the packed house on its feet.
The second half began with a salute to the great tennis playing Williams sisters, Venus and Serena with the power, grace and even grunts of the great athletes expressed in a compact sequence of dance give and take. The remainder of the program was an absolutely dazzling set of pieces called “Ode to the Sixties” that was accompanied by pop music by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and a perfect finishing kick from James Brown’s “Super Bad.” The choreography demonstrated an amazing variety of styles and moods drawn from the period and ranged from whimsical to political to just plain funky. Again, Tamika Washington-Miller lead the way on “Blowin’ in the Wind” that managed to draw goose-bumps without saying a word outside of the atmosphere created with the movement of bodies. Lula Washington’s choreography is multi-textured and filled with small nuances that may reach you after the performance as you ponder the marvels of the art of dance.