Reframing The Narrative at the Kennedy Center

Reframing the Narrative: Ballethnic Dance Company, "The Leopard Tale" -- Photo: Sirk Photography
Reframing the Narrative: Ballethnic Dance Company, “The Leopard Tale” — Photo: Sirk Photography

The little-known but rich history of Black dancers and creators in ballet is the focus of a new effort to highlight and amplify their contributions, led by the Kennedy Center.

Presented first and foremost as a week-long dance programming series, Reframing The Narrative has also spurred the creation of a new digital resource and learning space, housed on the Center’s website, detailing the history, legacy, and continuing relevance of Black artists and companies in the formal dance genre.

The performance series features Dance Theatre of Harlem as well as two other dance entities spawned by DTH alum — Ballethnic Dance Company and Collage Dance Collective — coming together for the first time to highlight the wide spectrum of their work and presence in ballet, further reinforced by the inclusion of a dozen Black ballet artists, known individually for their work in historically white ballet companies, who have come together for a world-premiere Kennedy Center commission.

The group’s roster includes Portia Adams of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, Katlyn Addison of Ballet West, Joshua Bodden of Kansas City Ballet, Claudia Monja of Nashville Ballet, Ashley Murphy-Wilson of the Washington Ballet, Jonathan Philbert of Atlanta Ballet, and Miranda Silveira of the Joffrey Ballet.

Working together with eminent choreographer Donald Byrd, the group has developed a new dance piece, running under 20 minutes in length, set to a score by Kennedy Center Composer-in-Residence Carlos Simon.

That work is featured in both programs and all seven performances in the series, with musical accompaniment from the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra under shared conducting by Kalena Bovell of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and Dr. Leslie Dunner, formerly of DTH and The Joffrey Ballet.

Program A, scheduled for the first three performances — Tuesday, June 14, through Thursday, June 16, at 7:30 p.m — also includes Dance Theatre of Harlem performing Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Balamouk and DTH artist Dylan Santos’s contemporary take of “Odalisques Variations” from the second act of Le Corsaire; Ballethnic performing Sanctity, a 10-dancer ballet developed by the company’s Waverly T. Lucas II in collaboration with composer L. Gerard Reid and rendered with live percussion onstage; and Collage Dance paying musical homage to its Memphis hometown with choreographer Amy Hall Garner’s Bluff City Blues.

Reframing the Narrative: Collage Dance Collective in Kevin Thomas' "Firebird" -- Photo: Ariel Cobbert
Reframing the Narrative: Collage Dance Collective in Kevin Thomas’ “Firebird” — Photo: Ariel Cobbert

Program B, offered at the last four performances in the series — Friday, June 17, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, June 18, at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, June 19, at 1:30 p.m. — also features Dance Theatre of Harlem, joined by D.C. area dance students, in Gloria, a tribute to the spiritual legacy of the company’s namesake neighborhood; Ballethnic with excerpts from its signature work The Leopard Tale fusing ballet and African dance; and Collage Dance with Firebird, a work by the company’s Kevin Thomas set to Stravinsky’s famed powerful score but largely inspired, in dance and design, by South Africa’s Zulu/XhosaI culture.

Tickets are $29 to $119 per program.

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