There are a lot of things wrong in the modern dance world, but Lula Washington Dance Theatre isn’t one of them. Friday’s show at the Ordway a breath of fresh air like the modern dance sequences in Center Stage, except more inspired, kinetic, and original.
Who is Lula Washington, you might ask? Her name appears nestled in the credits to the animated musical The Little Mermaid, with a special thank-you. The Disney animation team drew on her input in crafting memorable underwater dance scenes like “Under the Sea,” just one of several Hollywood credits to the dance company’s founder’s name. Although several of the pieces in Friday’s performance featured work by other choreographers, they were without exception interesting and powerful.
One thing that LWDT doesn’t do a good job of is keeping its website up to date, which is a shame because many of the new pieces created by the company since its 2010 website update are quite stellar. The opening piece on Friday’s program, Christopher Huggins’ “Love Is …” was the most conservative work on the program, and dates from 2010. This work was sensually delivered and pregnant with magnetic spins and lifts, but aside from the solo by Queala Clancy lacked the more distinct electric sheen of the newer pieces; its age showed in a program dominated by more effusive and distinct styles.
The music for this performance was recorded, but the dancing felt anything but. Most of LWDT’s work is rooted in African-American culture; this was most overt in the raw “Message for Peeps” (Tamica Washington-Miller’s deliberately unsettling work). Rennie Harris’ Christian contemporary-inflected “Reign” was visibly stamped with this heritage, but the piece in practice was dominated by a constantly escalating flood of energy and athleticism that was infectious, engrossing, and more effective than a Red Bull at filling the hall with adrenaline.
Lula Washington Dance Theatre is exactly the type of group that Ordway subscribers should want to see back again.