Me & Miss D, Black Ensemble Theater. Jackie Taylor’s latest celebration of black history is a dance essay about the great Katherine Dunham, who combined African, ballet, and modern traditions in vital, athletic choreography that changed the vocabulary of the dance world in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Written in collaboration with local celebrity Tommy Gomez, who worked in Dunham’s company and dance schools, this biodrama praises her for her activism, her intellectual excellence as an anthropologist and writer, and her artistic innovation. As usual, Taylor tells the tale with moving enthusiasm, aiming more for inspiration than biographical depth.
The Dunham whose dances and books I’ve studied is more complicated and interesting than the Dunham I met at the Black Ensemble Theater: I wished for more of her own words and choreography instead of the overview provided by Taylor and her choreographer, Bobby Andrews. And as in Great Women in Gospel, Taylor’s writing is sometimes bland, though its repetition is a good educational tool; if she focused more on the language, it could also bring poetry to the performance.
But Me & Miss D does inspire pride in Dunham’s achievement, thanks in part to excellent dance work by Roxiana Marie Fuqua as Dunham and Anthony Wayne Johnson as Gomez and the liveliness of a jubilant if sometimes uneven supporting cast. A busload of teenage girls in the first two rows seemed happy enough with the spectacle of a beautiful danced tribute to black accomplishment. Taylor’s entertaining, somewhat mythic portraits of great black women might benefit from Dunham’s detailed anthropological perspective, but preaching pride is a vital first step toward future achievement.