Lula Washington is the Artistic Director of the Lula Washington Dance Theatre (LWDT). She and her husband Erwin Washington, Executive Director, founded LWDT in 1980 to “provide a creative outlet for minority dance artists in the inner city.” The company has since toured throughout the United States and around the world, including Germany, Spain, Kosovo, Mexico, Canada, China, and Russia. She has received numerous awards for her choreography and her tireless work with LA’s inner-city youth. Most recently, Ms. Washington was honored with the Champion Award during the Opening Ceremony of DANCE/USA Conference in appreciation for her extraordinary achievements, leadership, outstanding service, and dedicated efforts in Los Angeles.

Recently, LWDT was presented by The Ford Theatres at their beautiful, and recently renovated Ford Amphitheater. The evening began with a reception that not only honored Lula and Erwin Washington and their daughter Tamica, it was a gathering of dance artists, presenters, members of DANCE/USA, Department of Cultural Affairs Los Angeles, American Dance Abroad and representatives of the Ford Theatres. The concert featured works by Lula Washington, Rennie Harris, Kyle Abraham, Tamica Washington-Miller and David Roussève.

Tamica Washington-Miller, Erwin Washington, Lula Washington – Photo: Timothy Norris, Courtesy of Ford Theatres

Tamica Washington-Miller is Associate Director, resident choreographer and designated Next Generation leader of LWDT. She describes her movement style as “a blend of traditional modern and jazz dance, with hip-hop and vernacular flavors, and the traditional dances of the African diaspora.” For many years, Washington-Miller was a beautiful dancer/performer with her mother’s company.

THERE IS ALWAYS TOMORROW was choreographed by Ms. Washington-Miller for LWDT in 2016, with opening text by India born philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti and music by Marcus L. Miller. The phrase La Vie en Rose, the title of a signature song by the iconic French singer Édith Piaf, is spoken numerous times throughout the work. Along with this title, the dancers continuously put on and remove pairs of sunglasses. When the shades are on, the characters are happy and care free. When off, they see the world as it really is; quickly returning to a perceived safer world provided by their “rose colored glasses.”

Lula Washington Dance Theatre in THERE IS ALWAYS TOMORROW by Tamica Washington-Miller – Photo: Timothy Norris, Courtesy of Ford Theatres.

The dancers were wonderful and Ms. Washington message was a poignant one, but her meaning became clear very early on, causing it to feel repetitive. It was never clear which of the two choices these people made, or the consequences of that choice. Special mention to Krystal Hicks who managed to dance while executing a near perfect head stand on top of a wooden box. The music for THERE IS ALWAYS TOMORROW was composed by Marcus L. Miller.

David Roussève is a choreographer, writer, director, filmmaker and the founder of David Roussève/REALITY. He has created numerous full-evening works for his company and he has been commissioned to create new works for numerous well-known companies both nationally and internationally.     His work ENOUGH? makes a potentially strong but somewhat inconclusive statement in a fairly short span of time.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre in ENOUGH? by David Roussève – Photo: Timothy Norris, Courtesy of Ford Theatres

Supported by a projection of Roussève’s text that stated that, as a black youth growing up in the south, he did not understand the meaning behind the words sang by Aretha Franklin. As an adult and through experience, that meaning became crystal clear. Two dancers move in unison. As the duet progresses, their movements become faster and more frantic, until they finally collapsed to the floor. From where I sat, very near the front, much of the text was illegible because they were projected against a very uneven stone wall, causing me to guess at what the words were. Here too, the work felt unfinished and/or unresolved.

The music for ENOUGH? was by Aretha Franklin; Video by Cari Ann Shim Sham; and costumes by Lula Washington. The two strong dancers were Jasmine Francisco and Joshua Alexander.

REIGN, choreographed by Rennie Harris, was a tour de force for much of the cast. Not only did they have to perform Harris’ fast athletic/hip-hop romp, they had to transverse the Ford Amphitheater’s stairs that connect the two stage levels. They did so without showing fatigue. Kudos to them all.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre in REIGN by Rennie Harris – Photo: Timothy Norris, Courtesy of Ford Theatres

Rennie Harris is a dancer, choreographer, artistic director and professor of hip-hop dance who formed the first and longest running hip-hop dance touring company, Rennie Harris Puremovement, in 1992. In 2007, he conceived another touring company, RHAW or Rennie Harris Awe-Inspiring Works. He has received numerous awards for his theatrical hip-hop dance performances or what he refers to as, “Hip-Hop concert dance”. Harris’ choreography for REIGN is not only filled with the elements of hip-hop, but it is one continuous series of jumps, leaps, turns and lifts that brought the audience to its feet at the end.

The work opened with an amazing solo performed by Krystal Hicks and ended with Ms. Washington and her daughter Tamica entering the stage to lead the audience in a revival-style celebration of dance and music with people clapping and dancing in front of their seats and in the aisles. Why this work was placed in the middle of the program and not presented as a closer, is a mystery.

Kyle Abraham is the Artistic Director of Abraham.In.Motion (A.I.M). He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2016 Doris Duke Artist Award recipient and 2015 City Center Choreographer in residence. In 2011, OUT Magazine labeled Abraham as the “best and brightest creative talent to emerge in New York City in the age of Obama”.

The beauty, and strength, of Abraham’s work entitled HALLOWED came from his use of very subtle movements and the power within the three women who performed it. Abraham conveyed a sense of anger, restraint and resilience of an entire race with small, even simple movements of a shoulder or arm, a head turn, and a quietly defiant stance or walk. The work stands on its own without the aid of any physical “tricks” or athleticism; no technically difficult turns or leaps were necessary. In truth, those would have weakened his work. The bravado came from within the performers. Their histories and personal experiences gave authority to how they interpreted Abraham’s vision.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre in HALLOWED by Kyle Abraham – Photo: Timothy Norris, Courtesy of Ford Theatres

The internalized and stirring music for HALLOWED was by Bertha Gober and Cleo Kennedy; Set Design by Glenn Ligon; Lighting Design by Dan Sully; and Costume Designed by Reid Bartelme. The work was recreated for LWTD by Koliji Menez.  The cast included Jasmine Francisco, Tehran Dixon and Saidya Imari.

OPEN YOUR EYES was choreographed by Lula Washington and premiered in 2016. The work had wonderful sections which conveyed strong messages, but the work contained other sections that came across as unnecessary filler. The long section with the iridescent capes worked well long ago for American film director and choreographer Busby Berkeley, but they did nothing but weaken Ms. Washington’s work. The last section with the dancers wearing all white, some with flowers in their hair, also lost its focus. Was it a wedding, a ritual or a spring gathering? It was not clear.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre in OPEN YOUR EYES by Lula Washington – Photo: Timothy Norris, Courtesy of Ford Theatres

“Open your eyes” is a powerful and much needed message for a large segment of today’s society, but the frivolous sections in this work diminished that statement. As presented, it was not one of Ms. Washington’s best, nor was it a program closer. The music was by Earth, Wind & Fire; lighting by Michael David Ricks; and costumes by Evan Wilson and Lula Washington.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre in OPEN YOUR EYES by Lula Washington – Photo: Timothy Norris, Courtesy of Ford Theatres

Michael David Ricks’ lighting truly enhanced the entire evening. The Ford Amphitheater is vast and gorgeous on its own, but Ricks brought his own beauty to the show. The company members not mentioned above included Joshua Alexander, Bernard Brown, Tehran Dixon, Christopher Frazier, and Michael Tomlin III. Also on the program were Associate and Apprentice dancers Joniece Soraya Boykins, Thomas Davis, Danny Guerra, and Kozue Kasahara.

To learn more about the Lula Washington Dance Theatre, click here.

Featured Photo: Lula Washington Dance Theatre in REIGN by Rennie Harris – Photo by Timothy Norris, Courtesy of Ford Theatres.