FRONT AND CENTRE: Spotlight-ready performers giving it their all on stage.
For their just-concluded 2014 season, the Stella Maris Dance Ensemble clearly wanted to put on a show with a difference. Mission accomplished. Infused with all the requisite elements to create magic on the stage — innovative choreography equal parts athletic and graceful, eye-catching and sumptuous costumes and eloquent bodies in motion — the weekend-long season at the Little Theatre got the resounding applause it deserved.
Of the seven pieces performed, five were 2014 debuts, including the soulful and transporting "My Language," commissioned by America's Black Academy of Arts and Letters, and choreographed by Toki Gozalez and Artistic Director MoniKa Lawrence. Buoyed by lyrical spoken-word accompaniment voiced by famed actress Jasmine Guy (based on a poem by Curtis King), the piece captivated with its breezy Afrocentric sensibilities (the mocha-hued costumes were simply ravishing) — and the delightful appearance of Joan Belfon leading the company with some robust solo work.
In a show with no shortage of highlights, the Tony Wilson-choreographed "Patchwork" (with its vivid green backdrop, high-energy movement and unmistakable African influences) was another brilliant standout. Lawrence, who traditionally offered works steeped in sensitivity and restraint, switched up the formula a bit with her dramatic high-schoolers-in-revelry piece "Stolen Inner-Sense," while Kemal Nance rivetingly explored the modern Black male experience with the intense, testosterone-spiked "Wanted."
Enjoying successful revivals: Lawrence's "Where Is Maria?" (1998), a glorious feat of technique and spectacle and 2001's "Gye Name (Except God)" by H Patten, which brought a flourish of electricity and excitement to the evening's finale.
Overall, a solid showcase marked by superb artistry, maturity and a sense of creative risk-taking. So if the presentation we witnessed is any reliable indicator of things to come, the Stella Maris Dance Ensemble remains in good stead for its next chapter.