Heavily rooted in the African-American experience, the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company has become one of the largest companies of its kind between places like Chicago and New York City. With national and international acclaim gained over the years, the company has assembled a wide-range of choreographers to highlight their artistic vision to the stage. The works that have played out on the local theaters provided audience’s with some of the most breathtaking, stunning performances since being founded in 1968. HeartShakes, the next production the DCDC will be unveiling this Saturday night at Victoria Theatre, will be added to the incredible list of shows.
The creator-choreographer of HeartShakes, Kiesha Lalama, is putting the final touches on her work with the stage production of Into The Woods down in Miami. With the original composer Stephen Sondheim giving his blessing, the role of the witch will be played by extraordinary actor Tituss Burgess. The casting of Burgess has caused this version of Into The Woods to be labeled as “ground breaking and historical” due in part of Burgess being an African-American gay man. Publications like Out magazine, and the Huffington Post, along with the Inquisitr have all released features on Burgess’ involvement, and the impact that it’s creating. “Tituss Burgess is a genius. He is one of the smartest actors that I have worked with…ever,” Lalama gleefully says. “Every choice he makes as the witch is just perfect. His voice is magic.”
For over twenty years now, Lalama has been choreographing events like Into the Woods. Starting with high school musicals and teaching at the dance studio she trained at around her hometown, Lalama continued all the way through college at Point Park University. However, a recurring knee injury that required a few surgeries would halt Lalama from continuing to perform. With the end of her performing dance career, Lalama pressed on with her teaching at the college. As her students would go on to graduate and met with artistic directors of dance companies, they would mention that Lalama was needed to be brought in. “My students launched my national career,” Lalama says.
It took five years for Lalama to be choreograph a piece for DCDC. When the opportunity finally came, she released Shed to critical praise with not only the community, but within the company. The act, inspired from a deep desire to spread the message and importance of self-love, challenges the spirit to find courage, let go, and be free. Lalama’s passion and dedication to her dancers, and the crew made it hard for the first show being the only one. Lalama was going to come back with a brand new set. Little did she know, the story would come to her quickly.
HeartShakes began to materialize when the opening performance of Shed was over. As Lalama began to drive back home to Pittsburgh, she started to think of how she was going to set up her next dance. She inserted the copy of the band Alabama Shakes’ Boys and Girls into her car stereo, in hopes to release her mind for the long drive home. That 2012 album debut launched the bluesy-rock group and created a rabid following around the world.
As each song played, and she started piecing together the narrative that was unfolding in her mind. The gritty, Southern soul songs that came out, Brittany Howard’s wailing, yet fierce voice, began interweaving with one another. Playing Boys and Girls in her car was meant to be a release. To distract her from forging forward. In the end, the album spoke with Lalama in ways that she couldn’t imagine. Lalama mentions that she emotionally connected with Howard in each lyric sung. “I’m all soul. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I will tell you what I am thinking. I feel like everything that Brittany said resonated,” Lalama says with a passionate tone. “Her lyrics, her passion, her power. In everything that my dancing is-it just fits. I just fits.”
HeartShakes will be taking spectators into the lives of five different relationships of various lovers, who throughout the span of one evening in a quaint but moody nightclub, will witness them intersecting with one another. With each song from Boys and Girls, the music features various stages of love. “I wanted to make sure that I built something that the audience would walk away feeling something, relating to this characters and certainty being entertained,” Lalama explains.
Watching a dancer perform a contemporary piece is awe-inspiring. The fluid movement of their body. The athleticism that is required to achieve a level of flexibility that most only dream of. Contemporary dance numbers demand you to be held captive throughout, only because you don’t know what to expect each time. There is a beauty, and most importantly an appreciation, to the form that shouldn’t be overlooked. DCDC has embedded themselves within the heart of it all, and continue to attract people young and old with each show.
When it’s all said and done, HeartShakes will allow to have Lalama to imprint her mark in the city for years to come. With DCDC owning the rights, there has been talk on possibly taking the show on a tour. It’s even been brought up that it would be a dream come true to have the Alabama Shakes perform live during the show. For now, the show will go on at the Victoria Theatre. The excitement that comes out when talking to Lalama is uncontrollable. “I really believe in this,” she says. “The dancers give me everything they have. It’s so draining, because they go through this roaring arrange of emotions. It demands so much of them…there is no other company like DCDC. These guys are so versatile, and so committed-I’m honored to be associated with such a great group of people.”
See HeartShakes world premiere at The Victoria Theatre at 138 North Main Street, Dayton Ohio on January 31 at 7:30pm or Sun Feb 1 at 3pm. Tickets are $25 to $45 each and are available at Ticket Center Stage at 937-228-3630 or 888-228-3830 or www.ticketcenterstage.com.