Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus and Dayton Contemporary unite at the Victoria Theatre

Photo: Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus (above) and Dayton Contemporary Dance Company present Modern Dance Modern Funk June 3 at Victoria Theatrephoto: Knack Creative

By Arnecia Patterson

In 14 seasons, the Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus (DGMC) concerts have steadily developed in quality and audience. They have a signature appeal: rousing tenors and basses doing justice to a choral repertory—this season’s went from Gregorian chant to contemporary standards—enhanced by modest acting, stylized movement, and lighthearted ribbing.

For its final concert of the season, Modern Dance Modern Funk, DGMC makes an artistically crafted, social statement about homophobia and racism in a collaboration with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC). With choreography, by Debbie Blunden-Diggs and Crystal Michelle Perkins of DCDC, performed to an original composition by DGMC Artistic Director Kathy Clark, the original piece “Together We Must” premiers Saturday, June 3 at 8 p.m. at the Victoria Theatre. It is a one-time-only work of music and dance never heard or seen before.

Clark’s original score, in and of itself, is a rarity in dance. Dance companies can hardly ever afford the additional costs: composer and musicians in addition to the standard dancers and choreographer, plus creative time, rehearsal time, and multiple artistic visions. “Together We Must” is no exception; it is almost a year in the making. Even rarer is Clark’s lyrics based on words, feelings, and ideas from a workshop in which DCDC dancers and DGMC singers shared personal experiences with homophobia and racism. Despite the highly charge subject matter of “Together We Must,” the collaboration comes to fruition because of friendships and choice, elements not often associated with racism or homophobia.

As a favor to a friend, Clark came to DGMC with a plan to fill in for the director who was taking a leave of absence. She brought her experience teaching music to the group so that it could get through the season and ended up staying because of her love for the people and the music. “Of course, I fell in love with the whole process and the guys,” Clark says. “So here I am, four years later. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Her sentiment is shared by Drew Huggins who joined DGMC after a year of enjoying the concerts from an audience member’s perspective. After joining, he became friends with Clark and, eventually, president of the board. Both are instrumental in creating and funding “Together We Must” along with Blunden-Diggs of DCDC, another friend of Clark’s. “Debbie kept saying, ‘We really want to do something with you,’” Clark recalls. “I told her that I would love it. So we finally decided we would.”

The shared vision and friendships paved the way for a day-long gathering of each group’s dancers and singers. There, they plumbed their feelings about marginalizing experiences based on skin color and sexuality.

As divisive as homophobia and racism remain in today’s political and social climate, DGMC and DCDC address them in a cohesive 20 minutes of music and dance arranged in five movements. “Guarded,” the first movement, draws from conversation about maintaining a closed demeanor, putting up one’s guard, when meeting someone who may perceive you as “other.” “Around the Other Worlds” is a ballad about having to obscure the defining parts of one’s personality in order to blend. According to Clark, most of the composition’s lyrics were taken from workshop participants’ verbiage. “I don’t have the experiences of some of the group,” she says, “so I’m a gatherer. I put everything in my basket for the audience. Here is what we said that day. Here is that perspective.” Her lack of experiential knowledge offers a clear-eyed approach to casting the multi-layered workshop experience to music. In addition to voice, she has written parts for Conga drums and rap alongside upright bass, cello, and piano with orchestral overtones.

In as much as the work’s accompaniment is a departure for DGMC, Perkins of DCDC is used to broaching her emotional responses to race, class, and gender, artistically. Ideally, the workshop influences a choreographic statement piece—work that impacts the seer and redefines a standard of beauty. In this case, the redefinition is the reflections of two populations historically cast as other.

“For me, that deeply personal work of healing from the effects of racism, unlearning the negative ideals of the oppressor, and boldly taking back our power through art has become a very public artistic and political mission,” she states.

In rehearsals with the nine featured dancers in her section of “Together We Must,” she departed from dance’s convention of deciding and prescribing steps. Instead, she asked dancers to choose their movement responses to ideas that she offered as starting points. This allowed a dance that was authentic to the intent of the collaboration to take shape. “That idea of choice was important to me, because their lives are not mine, and so often we want everyone to believe and live the same way,” Perkins says. “Choreographing this work allowed me to experiment with ideas of choice and the negotiations around choice that take place within a community.”

Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus and Dayton Contemporary Dance Company present Modern Dance Modern Funk Saturday, June 3 at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St. in downtown Dayton. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $28-$33. For tickets or more information, please call Ticket Center Stage at 937.530.0642 or visit DaytonGayMensChorus.org or DCDC.org. 

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Arnecia Patterson
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 ArneciaPatterson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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