One of Los Angeles’ longest running modern dance companies, the Lula Washington Dance Theatre, proved that it is still going strong, dancing beautifully and moving forward artistically. Presenting three different programs at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, the three-night run is dedicated to the legacy of Martin Luther King, jr. Program A featured 4 works choreographed by African-American males and an excerpt from Lula Washington’s powerful and poignant work, The Movement which speaks to the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement in America.

Lula Washington Dance Theater – Krystal Hicks in Temporary Spaces – Photo Credit: Kevin Parry for The Wallis

Anthony Burrell is a Philadelphia-born Creative Director, Choreographer and Actor, and a former dancer with the Lula Washington Dance Theatre. Burrell was also a principle dancer with the Al

vin Ailey American Dance Theater, and his film and musical video credits are extensive. Burrell’s Temporary Spaces is a dynamic, powerful and driving quartet, filled with beautiful partnering, luscious movement and performed to near perfection by Saidiya Imari, Krystal Hicks, Christopher Frazier and Michael Tomlin, III. Supported by the beautiful score Primacy of Numbers by Philip Glass, these dancers moved easily through Burrell’s complex rhythmic phrasings. The work is movement based, but it is also dramatic, with an opening that foretells authority and control. The beautiful Krystal Hicks demands that you watch her. She possesses a talent and presence that cuts to the heart of any movement given her.

Love Is…, choreographed by former member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, is a work that begins with a lovely, almost typically romantic duet, but which ends with a sudden angry punch. The duet, titled At First Sight, performed beautifully by Christopher Frazier and Tehran Dixon, is exactly as the title suggests. Two people meet and instantly fall in love. Fleeting, is a fast-paced ménage a trois performed with exquisite precision by Joshua Joseph Alexander, Michael Tomlin, III and Krystal Hicks. It finishes with sudden, humorous and surprising conclusion. Queala Clancy gives a commendable performance in Pain about a woman who is suffering from the loss of either love or the death of a child. This pain morphs into the entire company performing The Same Old Story. This section begins by examining various types of relationships, but it ends with a loud and angry cry for change.

Queala Clancy in Donald Byrd’s “Communion” – Lula Washington Dance Theater – Photo Credit: Kevin Parry for The Wallis

Following an extensive career that includes being the Artistic Director of Donald Byrd/The Group for 24 years, Byrd is currently the Artistic Director of Spectrum Dance Theater based in Seattle. The 1994 work Communion was reconstructed on the Lula Washington Dance Theatre by Assistant to Donald Byrd, Jamal Story. It involves a tribal priestess and four women, who appear to be part of a ceremonial initiation. I am not familiar with Byrd’s work, but with his reputation in the business, I feel that this is not one of his strongest works. The five women, Queala Clancy, Tehran Dixon, Jasmine Francisco, Krystal Hicks and Saidiya Imari, work hard to give Byrd’s piece their best, but the dance takes forever to make its statement. There are, of course, wonderful sections of fast, intricate phrases, but there are also long stretches of time where not much other than posturing is taking place. Communion is a very lengthy work in dire need of editing. The music is by Mio Morales.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre in “The Movement” – Photo Credit: Kevin Parry for The Wallis

Lula Washington presented an excerpt from her powerful tribute to the Civil Rights icon, Martin Luther King, jr., The Movement. Choreographed in 2004, the piece includes disturbing and graphic historical photos projected on the back wall of the lynching of black men and white supporters of the Civil Rights movement. There are photos of signs seen throughout the south during that era that read “Whites Only” and of water fountains, towns, motels and restaurants that were designated for whites, and those that were only for “colored” people. I grew up in Virginia during that time, and these photos evoked, not only anger and shame, but I experienced a renewed fury of what is currently taking place throughout this country. I heard soft sobbing coming from a young black woman seated behind me that broke my heart. The opening section of The Movement shows a group of blacks, lead by Martin Luther King, jr., marching in place while an angry white man (performed impressively by Danny Guerraro) taunts and throws rocks at them. The crowd flinches and suffers injury, but they keep marching forward for change, freedom and justice. This is followed with an outstanding performance by Michael Tomlin, III, portraying the iconic MLK’s struggles with the path he has chosen; endangering not only his life, but the lives of his family and followers. The solo is accompanied by one of King’s famous speeches.  We heard, in King’s own words, as he speaks openly about his doubts, struggles and determination to continue to work for the rights of all Americans. The Movement reminds us of how far we have come, but also of how work there is still to be done.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre in Rennie Harris’ “Reign” – Photo Credit: Kevin Parry for The Wallis

The evening closed with a resounding celebratory work by Rennie Harris. Harris choreographed Reign for the company in 2010 to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Raised in an inner-city community of Philadelphia, Harris began his dance training with hip hop. Fusing that early training with contemporary modern dance, Harris has developed a strong choreographic voice of his own. The cast of Reign included the entire company as well as company Apprentices Danny Guerraro and David Mitchell, and the Youth Dancers. The work opens with a brief, but joyous solo by the stunning Krystal Hicks before it opens into a wide variety of sections. There a dynamic all-male quartet that included incredible leaps and a delightful nod to the “church ladies” section in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations. A moment that took my dancer breath away came as the dancers were involved in a very fast unison section. In an instant, and without a quiver from anyone, the entire cast stopped balanced on one leg. They nailed it! Reign is a beautiful showcase for a company that has become one of Los Angeles’ art and cultural treasures: the Lula Washington Dance Theatre.

The Lula Washington Dance Theatre performs at the Wallis through January 13. For more information and tickets, click here.

To visit the LA Dance Chronicle Performance Calendar, click here.