Norfolk Academy’s Dance Master, Elbert Watson, took his troupe, the Elbert Watson Dance Company, to Kill Devil Hills last weekend for a performance of works that he had choreographed. The concert, which featured works about the Vietnam War, Kristallnacht, and the soaring speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., drew a rave review, which will soon be published in newspapers. Norfolk Academy got an advance copy, published below.
Mr. Watson has performed selected dances from the performance for the Upper School, and he will reprise those on Monday, April 2, for the Middle School.
Elbert Watson: Redefining Dance
Dance may well have been the first form of emotive expression, the ability of the human body to twist and turn, to move in certain ways to tell a story of love, fear, hatred or courage has endured over the years.
Yet if dance was the first form of expression, what the Elbert Watson Dance Company brought to the First Flight High School stage on Sunday was so evocative, so powerful, that it seemed to redefine a primitive form of expression into a new language.
Titled Hymn for the Brave and Fallen Watson’s program was a tightly woven tale that examines the human cost of war. What made this performance particularly compelling was the grace and skill of the dancers and the intersection of choreography and storytelling.
The program opens with an orchestral arrangement of the hymn Mansions of the Lord. Although the words are not spoken, their power frames the first act.
“To fallen soldiers let us sing,
Where no rockets fly nor bullets wing,
Our broken brothers let us bring
To the Mansions of the Lord.”
What follows is an examination of rockets and bullets on our broken brothers.
The “Battle Hymn of the Republic” begins the tale, as dancers Kevin Jones and Taylor Burrows bring to life a belief in the good fight. “Let us die to make men free,” is a rousing rallying cry of the righteous.
There is, however a cost to be paid for that good fight—a horrific cost and “The Wounds Within (PTSD)” elegantly tells a tale of tragedy and ultimate triumph. With extraordinary performances from Sherah Posers and Elbert Watson, “The Wounds Within” transcends dance and becomes theatrical performance examining the Hell that exists within the wounded warrior.
“For Country” follows, examining the physical cost of war. As Tiana Shabazz pirouettes in a wheel chair with Richard Corbin as her partner, a story of achievement and even joy emerges.
Examining the human cost of war is but a part of the story, and understanding that is where the genius of Watson’s performance lies. There is a reason why we go to war, and the second act probes those reasons.
There is the delight in life and dance as depicted in “Blue Skies” followed by the gut-wrenching fear of “Kristallnacht” that finds dancer Aimee Long crouched in terror behind an overturned chair as glass breaks and fires paint the night sky red…and her world shatters.
The second act ends with “I Have a Dream,” a fitting tribute to the meaning of bravery and sacrifice that so many have made in belief of higher ideals. A speaker of enormous power, Dr. King honed his style preaching from the pulpit, and his I Have a Dream speech is the perfect blending of the voice of the sermon and poetry. The words are powerful and symbolic and he spoke them with such dramatic rhythm and cadence that, as Elbert Watson proved, it is possible to dance to them.
Again in this particular piece, the movement of body and acting ability highlight a theatrical performance that takes the story beyond traditional dance.
The performance ended with “Afro-Celtic Fusion” that seemed to get just about every performer on stage. It was joyful, energetic and the perfect way to remember that in the Mansions of the Lord there truly is rejoicing.
By Kip Tabb