The venerated Los Angeles-based Lula Washington Dance Theatre delivered incredible performances at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, Feb.1. The company celebrated its milestone 40th anniversary with a dynamic and powerful program exploring social and humanitarian issues. The company performed for three nights only, from Thursday, January 30 through Saturday February 1, 2020, in The Wallis’ Bram Goldsmith Theater.
The program, which included two world premieres and a West Coast premiere, celebrated the dance company’s past with some repertory gems with new works from new voices, some of whom are a generation younger than co-founders Lula and Erwin Washington. Mixing jazz, hip-hop, African movement, ballet, modern, tap and other dance styles, the company has built an international reputation for the vitality, energy and depth of its repertory and the charisma and interpretive power it brings to each and every performance.
For this special event, the dance troupe presented the world premiere of To Lula with Love created for the occasion by celebrated choreographer Christopher Huggins, a former member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and alum of Lula Washington Dance Theatre. Another Lula Washington Dance Theatre company alum created a new work for the program. Tommie Waheed Evans received a 2019 Princess Grace Foundation Honorarium Grant to create a (Hands Up: A Testimony) work for the 40th Anniversary that focused on his experience growing up in Los Angeles and what it meant to him to be a product of that city.
Additionally, the program featured two works by company Founder/Artistic Director Lula Washington, Fragments, which she describes as “a reaction to the chaotic times we live in,” and King, about the struggles of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a key moment in his life during the civil rights movement. Other repertoire included the West Coast premiere of Zayo, a bold, Afrofusion, dance-theatre work about self-discovery, destiny and personal strength by Esie Mensah, who hails from Toronto, Canada and Ghana, and Reign, a joyous gospel-fueled work by hip-hop concert pioneer Rennie Harris commissioned by Lula Washington Dance Theatre a decade ago for its 30th anniversary.
Washington, reflecting on the dance company’s 40th anniversary, says, “At the same time the company is pushing forward with new groundbreaking work, it is also holding true to its original mission of doing work that is ‘reaching for your soul.’ Our dancing and programming is designed to touch the soul and spirit of people, aiming to move them to a place of humanism and fairness for all.”
“Lula Washington Dance Theatre is among our country’s most important and influential dance companies,” states The Wallis’ Artistic Director Paul Crewes.
The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts is led by Chairman of the Board Michael Nemeroff, Executive Director & Chief Executive Officer Rachel Fine and Artistic Director Paul Crewes. For more information about The Wallis, please visit: TheWallis.org.
Photo credit: Wyatt Johnson