Like an episode of television's Soul Train, award-winning New York choreographer David Dorfman's Prophets of Funk features dancers decked out in Afros, platform shoes and bell-bottoms grooving to the music of one of America's first racially and gender-integrated bands, Sly and the Family Stone.
The inspiration for the 60-minute multimedia modern-dance work, to be performed by Dorfman and his eight-member David Dorfman Dance company at the Byham Theater, dates back decades.
"I have vivid memories of working out in my friend's basement as a young high school kid in the late 1960s, listening to the inspirational songs of Sly and the Family Stone like 'Everyday People,' 'Stand!' and 'I Want to Take You Higher.' They imparted the notion that you can do what you want with your life, you can be better than you are, and you can treat anyone of any color skin in a proper, righteous way -- everything I wanted to be a part of in my life," says Dorfman by phone from New York.
Prophets of Funk completes a trilogy including underground, about political activism and 1960s revolutionaries The Weathermen, and Disavowal, inspired by the life of radical abolitionist John Brown. Prophets, says Dorfman, "explores the many meanings of the words 'funk' and 'prophecy.' All the stuff we want to do, all the stuff we know, how badly we want to know the future, and all the things we can't know until we get there."
Although it's mostly exuberant and celebratory, Prophets of Funk also reflects on race relations, intimacy, drugs and celebrity falls from grace during the late 1960s and early '70s.
"I like to almost set up the audience into thinking a piece is just about a specific time period, when really I am curious about how we are relating to the issues of that period now," says Dorfman.
Performers include company member and Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham, who likens the characters to a touring band, and his self-created persona as a sort of a prophet who embraces the dual meanings of "funk" as both positive and negative.
Prophets of Funk closes with audience members invited to strut their stuff onstage with the dancers. "I wanted to make a piece that was not only accessible to audiences but also kinetically involving," says Dorfman.
DAVID DORFMAN DANCE performs PROPHETS OF FUNK 8 p.m. Sat., April 30. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $19-45. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org