As I left my house last night to head down to The 418 Project in downtown Santa Cruz to see Zari Le’on Dance Theater, I told my husband I was expecting to see some ambiguous modern dance with Africanist styling. I was so wrong. ZLDT’s four woman ensemble marched into the dance space singing “Down to the River and Pray.” Their a cappella voices and boot stomping filled the room and established the space as theirs. For the next hour these four, powerful dancers performed a non-stop, high energy, African-American inspired suite of dances into which we were emotionally drawn.
glitterBlack is Zari Le’on Dance Theater’s evening concert of “contemporary vernacular” dance. Le’on joins the fundamentals of ballet and Dunham techniques with contemporary street and club (“vernacular”) dance. The effect is electric. Her purpose is to express the life experiences of African-American women: her joys, sorrows, prayers, and force of will.
With Katherine Dunham’s Haitian-inspired techniques driving the choreography, Le’on created movements that took up space physically and psychologically. Even a simple walk across the stage was done with bold determination. The irresistible musical rhythms and fierce movements drew us into their world of real women living real lives.
The dancers—Kitami Sari Blakey, Kali Ites Houchen, Shaunah Trumbell, and Le’on, all native Santa Cruzans—shared the leading and supportive roles, more like the traditional call-and-response relationships than a soloist with chorus. Each woman completed the choreography with her own unique style (although I wish their synchronized steps were better synchronized). Their physical presence (no waif-like ballerinas here), the power in their legs, the ecstatic toss of arms and heads, the vitality in the torso, kept us on the edge of our seats.
At the end of the hour, we, the audience, flew off our chairs as if we had been waiting for an invitation to join them. The comments from the crowd were limited to a speechless “Wow!” If you missed last nights performance, make an effort to see them tonight at 8:00. You won’t be sorry.