Dayton Contemporary Dance Company kicks off Roots & Heritage Festival at the Lyric

Contributing Arts WriterSeptember 1, 2014 

  • IF YOU GO

    Dayton Contemporary Dance Company

    When: 7 p.m. Sept. 3

    Where: Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 E. Third St.

    Tickets: $20-$35

    Call: (859) 280-2218

    Online: lexingtonlyric.com,

    Roots & Heritage Festival

    The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company performance is a kickoff to the annual Roots & Heritage Festival, Sept. 5 to 7 in Lexington's East End neighborhood. Go to Rootsfestky.com for more information, and watch for more coverage in Friday's Weekender.

The east and west coasts may dominate the national contemporary dance scene, but for 46 years, the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company has put the Midwest on the map.

Rooted in the black experience, the troupe was founded by the late Jeraldyne Blunden, a black dancer, choreographer and a MacArthur Foundation "genius" fellowship recipient who began running a dance school at the age of 19.

"She wanted to show people that you didn't have to be in the big cities to produce great art," said Gary Harris, a former DCDC dancer who is now the company and tour manager.

The company begins a new season on Wednesday with a touring performance at the Lyric Theatre under the artistic direction of Blunden's daughter, Debbie Blunden-Diggs.

Throughout its 41/2 decades, DCDC has become a national leader among black contemporary dance companies, with its dancers routinely visiting other companies like the Dance Theatre of Harlem and Alvin Ailey American Dance Center.

Organizers at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center wanted to highlight the dance troupe as an official kickoff to the Roots and Heritage Festival.

"All of our organizations have very similar missions," said Rasheedah El-Amin, executive director of the Lyric.

"The partnership between DCDC and The Lyric was a natural fit. We both strive to showcase artistic expression of the highest quality and focus on cultural diversity."

El-Amin says that it is not only cultural diversity that is central to the Lyric's mission, but diversity of content offerings as well.

"We enjoy showcasing music, but our focus is on all of the arts — music, visual and performance," El-Amin said. "Dance is a very important form of the arts that more people should experience more often, and one doesn't have to have a dance background to be able to appreciate and enjoy it."

Tour manager Harris says the show's four featured dances will appeal to both newcomers to dance as well as the avid dance enthusiast.

"It's a mixed bill," Harris said of the featured numbers, which are 12 to 18 minutes long. They range from a memorial to founder Jeraldyne Blunden called Still Present, choreographed by former DCDC dancer Gina Walther, to a reflection on the West African principal of Wawa Aba, the seed of the wawa tree that is a symbol for perseverance and toughness.

Harris said the secret to the DCDC's longevity and perseverance was its continued commitment to the founder's vision, which includes being absolutely true to the choreographer's vision.

"She was very selective to make sure she pushed the dancers to what the choreographer wanted," Harris said. "... We have to look at each piece as being different and the founder instilled that in everyone.

"Sometimes it gets hard because people want to change it," Harris said, "but choreographers trust DCDC to maintain their vision."

Harris thinks that's one reason dancers work with the company for such a long time and often cross over into choreography or the administrative side of the industry once they retire from live performance, like he himself did. But the DCDC doesn't make dancers retire after a certain age, however — the troupe's oldest member is 53.

Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.

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