For Greer Reed-Jones, organizing a Black Dance Festival was easier than it would have been for most. To complete a list of participating groups and performers, she needed only to look to the connections she had made in her own career.
For instance, Reed-Jones is a former company member with both Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and Ailey II. Both troupes will perform in the festival, scheduled for Nov. 4-6 at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, where Reed-Jones is artistic director of dance initiatives. She also has connections to the festival's other guest dance troupes -- Rennie Harris Puremovement and Deeply Rooted Dance Theater -- via dancers she has known and has worked with. The festival's local representation is the center's own August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, which Reed-Jones leads.
All five companies are rooted in African-American dance tradition.
Reed-Jones says she had participated in several black dance festivals over the years. Given the Center's mission of "celebrating and shaping the art, culture and history of African Americans," now seemed like the right time for the Center, and Pittsburgh, to host one.
"I don't think Pittsburgh has had a black dance festival in a long time," she says.
While the festival will celebrate black dance, the genre itself has in many ways transcended boundaries of race and culture, heavily influencing all areas of dance and amassing universal audience appeal. One need only look as far as the ethnically diverse members of the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble to see how African-American dance has become a part of the everyday fabric of dance in the U.S. and across the globe.
The three-day festival features two distinct programs. Program I (running at 8 p.m. Nov. 4, and 3 p.m. Nov. 5) contains performances by Rennie Harris Puremovement, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and AWCDE. Program II (8 p.m. Nov. 5, and 3 p.m. Nov. 6) features performances by Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, Ailey II and AWCDE.
Due to budgetary constraints, with the exception of Ailey II and AWCDE, the companies will perform smaller works requiring only a handful of their dancers.
For the fledgling AWCDE, the festival is another opportunity to be recognized alongside more established companies, and to further Reed-Jones's vision for the company to become ambassadors of Pittsburgh dance.
AWCDE will perform two repertory works at the festival. Darrell Grand Moultrie's "Regality" is inspired by, and showcases, the individual talents of the ensemble's seven dancers. And Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham's "Function," set to music by Ryoji Ikeda and Pan Sonic People, explores the group dynamics of a social gathering, and how people fall into stereotypical patterns.
Philadelphia-based Rennie Harris Puremovement, which performed at the Center in 2010, will reprise choreographer Harris' "Something to Do With Love, Volume 1." Set to music by Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone and Ayo, the work in three parts "is a reflection of Dr. Harris' past and present relationships with women," says Puremovement company manager Rodney Hill, speaking by phone from Philadelphia. The company will also perform an excerpt from Harris' "Continuum."
Dayton Contemporary Dance Company will also perform two works. "The Story Unfolds," choreographed by longtime company member William B. McClellan Jr., deals with the woman's side of a romantic relationship. "Unresolved," a duet choreographed by DCDC2 director Shonna Hickman-Matlock, concerns the struggles of two lovers.
Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, meanwhile, will make its Pittsburgh debut. However, artistic director Kevin Iega Jeff has connections of his own to the city, having guest-taught at Point Park University on several occasions.
His Chicago-based company, whose name signals its earthy movement aesthetic, will perform two works at the festival. The first, "Tleftraeh" ("heartfelt" spelled backwards), is set to music by Antonin Dvorak and imagines the lives of a late-1800s family glimpsed in a photograph. The second work, set to jazz great Nina Simone's "Wild Is the Wind," is a duet about the tensions of love, says Jeff, speaking by phone from Chicago. "It's a beautiful expression of the humanity they share amongst each other."
Rounding out the festival's offerings, Ailey II -- the second company of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater -- will perform Ailey's iconic "Revelations," set to African-American spirituals and gospel songs.
August Wilson Center BLACK DANCE FESTIVAL Fri., Nov. 4-Sun., Nov. 6. August Wilson Center, 980 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $25, 412-456-6666 or CulturalDistrict.org