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Barney Yates

DANCE IQUAIL! presents "Public Enemy" and
showcases upcoming talent of its Concepts in Choreography program

April 21 and 22, 2023
Ailey Citigroup Theatre, 405 West 55th Street
Reviewed by Barney Yates April 22 (matinee performance)

Photo courtesy of DANCE IQUAIL!

DANCE IQUAIL!, led by Dr. Iquail Shaheed, took over the Ailey Citigroup Theater in Manhattan April 21 and 22, 2023 with a program that was primarily devoted to the world premiere of "Public Enemy," a dance that explores what they describe as the setting of incarceration to showcase the humanity of Black men and the diversity of their humanity. Since I could only attend the Saturday matinee, I only got to see the second act of "Public Enemy," but what I saw made me think I had seen the more interesting program of what was offered in the weekend.

That's because DANCE IQUAIL! used the first half to showcase the young people who were training with the company, who range in age from early childhood to early twenties. Most of them attend performing arts schools during the day and work with IQUALI! nights and weekends, training in Jazz, African Dance and some Modern Dance forms. The program is called Concepts in Choreography and its choreographers are from SUNY Purchase and Pace (among others). We were told that 75% of the students go into the profession and 100% of the day's box office went to the dancers.

In all, there were five dances in this part of the program, some set to familiar pop music. The first one, with four girls, was traditional jazz with good ensemble work and a joyous feeling. The second, choreographed by Carlos Frankies from Purchase College, was a dance of struggle with ingenious lifts. I was impressed by what the dancers could do with their fluid bodies.

The third, a jazz piece performed by four young women in black tops and orange skirts, made me write in my notes, "Watch for these kids, they're comers." The fourth piece, a tap number for six dancers, was mostly executed in two lines of three, dancing through each other. The style was a mix of classical and modern tap; the music was a jazz version of "Clair de lune" by Debussy. I wish they had distributed a program with credits so I could single out the soloist by name.

The fifth dance was a fast piece inspired by African Dance movement, performed to a percussive score. The four dancers wore black unitards with striped belts and headscarves.

With two dances remaining in the first section, Dr. Shaheed introduced a dancer named Gabby who has danced with Twyla Tharp, Debbie Allen and Mariah Carey. A playbill was not distributed for the Concepts in Choreography part of the program, so I cannot give her proper credit, but she was featured in the final piece.

Photo courtesy of DANCE IQUAIL!

After intermission, we got the second act of "Public Enemy," a piece created by Iquail Shaheed in collaboration with civil rights leader William Cobb, storyteller Daniel Carlton, costume designer Jermaine Terry, technical director Michael Jarrett and composer Jo Jo Streater. This engagement was the piece's world premiere, but by attending the matinee, I only got to see an excerpt of it.

Its cast was nine black male dancers with culturally diverse backgrounds and its subject was the experience of incarceration. The dance was quite narrative: it began with five men, hands raised, who mimed the humiliating experience of being strip searched in jail. As I watched, I realized that one of the male parts was actually being played by a woman. The piece was accompanied by audio voiceover (with heartbeat sounds behind it) that should be transcribed and published. Duets explored the relationships between inmates. It became clear to the audience that violence in prisons is due to how people are treated by the prison administration, not to any proclivity to violence in the inmates. We learned that there are too many veterans in jail. There was a powerful image of a scream as narration tells of a man hanging himself.

The lesson of the piece is how inmates support each other. Shaheed dances in the piece. It is graceful and powerful. A full dance vocabulary is used; it's fast and challenging in its jumps, turns and extensions and it covers the space very well. The dancers are always engaged with each other and the music by JoJo Streater is tense and unrelenting.

I don't think there's a man alive who doesn't wonder how he would stand up to incarceration. I have nightmares about it. This magnificent dance supplies some answers. I might survive, it says, but only because of the support of my fellow inmates.

To its credit, the company offered special low-priced tickets to justice-affected community members.

I was sorry not to have seen the entirety of "Public Enemy," but I was glad to have witnessed a corps of young dancers on the rise and I will be excited to see more work by DANCE IQUAIL!

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