Dimensions Dance Theater Reveals Two World Premieres

The April program, We Have Ourselves, features two world premieres with different perspectives, one by Latanya Tigner, a Dimensions member since 1986, and Erik Lee, who joined the company in 2011.


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Members of Dimensions Dance Theater in We Have Ourselves

Ed Miller

How much is Dimensions Dance Theater appreciated by Oakland and its East Bay neighbors? Quite a bit, I am pretty sure. Not enough, I am quite certain.

Under the extraordinary leadership of founder/artistic director Deborah Vaughan since 1972, Dimensions has never failed in its mission of presenting images of the African Diaspora that honors its roots but, perhaps more importantly, speaks to the current culture’s vibrancy. That means, in Dimensions’ case, it is urban and contemporary, with a performance vocabulary that includes West African, modern, jazz, tap, ballet, spoken word, and hip-hop. No matter the thematic material, Dimensions’ choreography embraces a sense of hope and affirmation, whether it is in Vaughn’s haunting Panther Project or Latanya Tigner’s The Last Dance/St. Ann and N. Rampart, her exuberant re-creation of a New Orleans’ funeral procession.

The April program features two world premieres, one by Tigner, a Dimensions member since 1986, and another by Erik Lee, who joined the company in 2011. They bring different perspective to the program’s name, We Have Ourselves.

Like in every other dance group in the world, men dancers are in short supply. Dimensions intrigued Lee after attending a workshop designed for male dancers of color. He joined when Vaughan invited him, even though his primary dance experience was not on the stage but in liturgical contexts. He is a former member of the Ross Dance Company that creates praise dances in Christian communities.

Armed with Joy, Lee’s new ensemble work for 11 dancers, includes a duet for himself and colleague Justin Sharlman. Uniquely it will be performed in silence. Lee’s musical choices for the rest of Armed include American blues and South African house. Some of the choreography was directly influenced by the music; for other parts of this half-hour work, he found tracks that supported his movement ideas.

Tigner’s inspiration for her Sanctuary goes way back to when as a young dancer, she performed with Dimensions at the Scottish Rite Center Oakland with the South African musician Hugh Masekela. It’s an experience she never forgot. While admiring him as a musician, she equally respected him as an activist with a message never afraid to speak up. She choreographed a gumboot dance to Masekela’s “Stimela,” the song written to honor workers imported to work in the coal mines. Forbidden to speak, they learned to talk with their feet. Other sections of Sanctuary will include examples of American social dances from different parts of the country: Los Angeles, Detroit, and Chicago. Urban dance indeed. 

Dimensions Dance Theater, We Have Ourselves, Sat., April 6, 8 p.m., Sun., April 7, 4 p.m., $20-$35, Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, 1428 Alice St., Oakland, 510-465-3363, Eventbrite.com, DimensionsDance.org, 510-465-3363.

This article originally appeared in our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly

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