City smooth

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company presents Urban Impulse

By Arnecia Patterson
Photo: [l to r] Rebecca Sparks Vargas and H.D. Horner III in DCDC’s Urban Impulse; photo credit: Scott Robbins

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company’s polish has acquired heirloom patina over the years. The dancers are ϋber-fit, and in performance they make artistic choices that are readily encouraged by lively audience response. DCDC concerts are known for the noise-making on the house side of the footlights – gasps, claps, shout-outs – heard over blaring music in response to dancers who ignite the stage.

Urban Impulse, its two-performance concert takes place Saturday June 8 at 3 and 8 p.m., at Stivers’ Centennial Hall. The program features a hip-hop dance by renowned choreographer Rennie Harris and a new work by choreographer Kiesha Lalama. Both choreographers’ urban impulses are well-fed. Harris’ long-time base is Philadelphia – a diverse metropolis filled with East Coast, big city stimuli – and Lalama is an associate professor at Point Park University in downtown Pittsburgh. When DCDC performs, these urban influences will give Dayton audiences an evening of concert dance that traverses the skyline and traipses the asphalt of an imagined, choreographed urbanscape.

Convincing Dayton audiences to go to the theater to see an art form that New Yorkers cut their teeth on is a challenge. While contemporary dance is a fixture on the stages of St. Marks, the Joyce Theatre and City Center in Manhattan – where there are hundreds of choreographers and dancers with long slates of artistic credibility influenced by an urban zenith – the Midwest and Dayton, Ohio have proven to be the hinterlands for contemporary dance craft and performance, DCDC’s specialties. To address the challenge of providing the public with a taste of high-quality dance flavored with uniqueness, Debbie Blunden-Diggs – artistic director of DCDC – asked choreographer Kiesha Lalama to create “a work that would truly impact and touch our youth from ages 18-35.”

Over the years Blunden-Diggs has kept in touch with Lalama and watched her choreography develop. In addition to teaching at Point Park University, Lalama worked on the choreography for the 2012 coming-of-age film, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” featuring Emma Watson and Kate Walsh. Finally, Blunden-Diggs decided that the Urban Impulse program was the right time to tap into her talents.

“She has a reputation for being able to create works that speak to the intersection of the classical and contemporary,” said Blunden-Diggs. The result is a dance entitled “Shed” set to techno and percussive music. The movements range from fast to slow and blend sharp with curvaceous – a testament of Lalama’s agile vocabulary. “Shed” shows the dancers controlled in slow-motioned movement and strong in extended flexibility held in posé to show a clear picture of the dancers’ physiques. According to Blunden-Diggs, “Keisha addresses the crossing of boundaries in urban America right now, and that is a core idea of this concert.”

“Jacob’s Ladder,” another feature of the Urban Impulse concert, was created by Rennie Harris whose name and reputation is famously synonymous with urban movement in professional dance circles. As concert dance goes, Harris’ body of work is, arguably, the single, most influential among hipsters and urbanites. His trademark choreography has migrated from the streets of Philadelphia to formal stages in theaters around the world and inherited the unlikely path that he has wended: from street dancer in the late 1970s, to recipient of two honorary Ph.D.s, conferred on him by Bates College and Columbia College. He choreographed “Jacob’s Ladder” for DCDC in 2007. Its smooth moves crescendo into something increasingly fast and ultimately exciting against a backdrop of city scenes projected onto the stage. “There’s a point near the end of Rennie’s piece when projections are rapidly firing and the entire cast is on stage. Four dancers slide into the floor and pedal their legs as if they were being chased on their sides. That has always been my favorite moment in the piece,” said Blunden-Diggs. “Jacob’s Ladder” is choreographed to the kind of house music that might be heard in the wee, sweaty hours at a dance club or in a rocking, just-before-dawn crowd at an underground party; however, audiences will see sophistication on stage – the result of urban provocation put on classically-trained artists.

DCDC’s feat is to convey a dance genre which, generally, does not depend on narrative to engross the viewer. Its beauty can be obtuse and subjective. The dancers and choreographers exploit tensions in music and movement, visual and aural, weight and levity, and hope that people in the audience find a place of satisfaction in the expertly crafted mixture. The dances featured in Urban Impulse add the dichotomy between street style and formalism.

Blunden-Diggs said, “Audiences may see movements that are sharp or twisted, because those movements mirror qualities in street forms, or urban in the way dancers use the ground. The cool attitudes of dancers, while they execute such difficult movements, create a tension that can be felt in their interactions with each other onstage.”

Another dance company in a different city might find the negotiation of such an artistic minefield daunting; however, DCDC knows contemporary entertainment. Over the years it has left the proof on stages around the world: dancers, choreographers and audiences always enjoy the show.

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company’s Urban Impulse concert will be held Saturday, June 8, 3 and 8 p.m. at Centennial Hall, Stivers School for the Arts, 1313 E. Fifth St. For ticket information call Ticket Center Stage at 937.228.3630 or 888.228.3630 or online at For more information on DCDC, visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Arnecia Patterson at

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Arnecia Patterson has an infinite capacity to view concert dance. She found her former career as dance executive, funder, and consultant extremely satisfying—and finds writing about dance equally rewarding. Reach DCP Resident Dance Critic Arnecia Patterson at

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