Dallas Black Dance Theatre ramps its 2010-11 season way up before celebrating 35 years

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

Dancers Chris and Bravita
Dancers Chris and Bravita bring a fine line to the new season of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre. Photography by Richard W. Rodriguez

As far as birthdays or anniversaries go, 34 isn’t usually considered a standout milestone. But for Ann Williams, it means a lot.

As the founding artistic director of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Williams sees the company’s upcoming 34th season as one of renewal and renovation — and one about preparing Dallas for its inevitable 35th year in the city.

“I did not think 35 years ago that it would ever be like this,” says Williams. “Back then, I just wanted a place to educate little girls; I just had my academy. Now, we get to service the city with professional dance theater.”

The DBDT calls its 2010–11 lineup A Season of Strength, Intensity and Seduction — virtues that have kept the theater going seemingly nonstop. Without missing a season since its beginning, DBDT renews itself by bringing in four new dancers to the troupe — not to mention last year’s move from the Majestic Theater into the Wyly Theatre, and its new home at the old Moreland YMCA in the Arts District.

Williams, with executive director Zenetta S. Drew, has steered the organization into its rightful place among Dallas arts.

“There’s been such a boon of the arts in Dallas,” Williams says. “I hope it continues with the economic times, but we’ve also been privileged to have these arts in this town. Plus, it’s exciting that we have the theater. We can actually plan a series.”

On both sides of the stage, the theater has had its own connection with the LGBT community. In past seasons, and even in the upcoming one, the theater has performed works by noted gay choreographers.  In February, the theater performs its Cultural Awareness Series including Smoke by Fort Worth’s Bruce Wood.

“For our dancers, the stigma of being gay has not hindered them or anyone not one bit,” Williams says of the welcoming approach the DBDT has taken toward the gay community— whether in the seats or onstage. “When I audition a dancer or talk to a potential employee, dance must be their passion. But I want everyone to remain individuals. I don’t want to see anyone hold something in. The only time I want to see people fitting in is during rehearsals. That’s the only time I have for cohesiveness.”

This season starts with the fifth annual DanceAfrica Festival at the Majestic. Despite its new home, DBDT keeps some ties to its former stage. The October event features dance, music art and cuisine of Africa.

This also marks a season of collaborations. DBDT teams up with the Dallas Museum of Art for African Masks: The Art of Disguise in October, the Irving Symphony for Hope Boykin’s in-ter-pret and perhaps the most anticipated, the Dallas Theater Center’s July production of The Wiz. All of this has Williams pretty excited.

“This is going to be so cool! There will be over 55 performers in this show,” she says.

The collaboration combines the Wyly’s two resident companies, and should also introduce Dallas Black Dance Theatre to new audiences it might not have gotten on its own. Williams finds that even today, the theater can break barriers.

“We have had very supportive audiences,” she says, “but we always want to reach out to others and embrace new fans.”

Growing from a basement space academy over three decades ago, Williams is aware that she has created an arts legacy for this city — even if she can’t believe it.

“I’m very humbled by who we are. It is still surprising,” she says. “When I see those beautiful dancers onstage working together, it brings tears of joy.  It really does.

And she wants to remind the audiences that they can expect a great season, but be prepared for the next.
“Thirty-five is right around the corner,” she says with a smirk. “That is the year we will really show out.”

Dallas Black Dance Theatre
2700 Flora St. The 2010-11 season begins with the
5th Annual DanceAfrica Festival
The Majestic Theater, 1925 Elm St.
Oct. 8–9. $10. Season tickets $96–$208. 214-871-2376.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010.