Occasionally, works of art can cause a physical reaction — one of deep sadness, longing or joy. Former Dallas Black Dance Theatre company member and choreographer Jamal Story seems particularly suited to communicate raw emotion through dance, a unique talent that will be on full display February 19-21 for Dallas Black Dance’s Cultural Awareness. The event will premiere three works including Story’s. For his part, Story will be exploring ancient myths through daring and complex aerial dance that explores the underworld, the real world and everything heavenly and hellish about them both. The Center was able to preview the event at a recent rehearsal and wanted to give fans a look behind the scenes.
Jamal’s piece, The Parts They Left Out, delves into the story of Narcissus and Echo, which Story says is a perfect example of “the desperation of wanting to be understood.” If you’ll recall, Echo was doomed only to say the last words of whoever she was speaking to, a terrible malady that kept her away from her desired love and eventually caused her demise. As for Narcissus, his continual spurning of nymphs like Echo earned him the fate of falling in love with his reflection.
Story believes that within this tragic tale of love-gone-wrong, there are questions left unanswered and ideas that can be explored. “There are entire seasons of television shows in those myths,” he says. Story plays with the chronology of the stories, working in Hades, Hera, Zeus Persephone (among others) who all contribute something singularly uncommon to this familiar anecdote.
Story has long held a fascination with Greek myths because they are so distilled that the humanity is lost in the text — something that he wants to revive through dance. As an accomplished writer with written works that predate his illustrious dancing career, Story says that his quest is the same across genres: “How do I get the meaning across to you in the most efficient way?”
In The Parts They Left Out, Story relies on aerial technology that brings the characters into new worlds and situations gracefully and beautifully.
Despite the complex movements and serious talent needed to dance through the air, Story strips away all pretense between the dancer and the audience. “I told [the dancers] to get past everything you’ve been trained to do and get to something very human.”
Story has a broader hope for his stunning, gravity-defying dance feats. He aims to “cross over into territory that isn’t the norm for this region.” As a world-famous dancer who has worked for icons like Cher (who he says is a “real-deal person”) and Madonna (who hand-picked Story from photos of his superhuman abs) his global sensibilities create an exciting, refreshing performance.
“My goal for Dallas Black Dance as an entity is that it continues to thrive in a more global context in addition to the localized one.”
“The commercialization of dance has done wonders, but not in the direction of 501c3 repertory companies,” he explains. By reaching into the common themes of humanity and “beyond the immediate constituency” of dance fans, Story hopes that we can all enjoy old stories in new ways.
“The common chord and the thing that all audiences can relate to are the expression and communication of people,” Story says.
Through his latest piece, he thrills and includes at the same time, helping to expand an audience’s understanding of dance and deepen their understanding of humanity. If you are looking for an entry into the world of dance or are longtime fans, consider heading out to Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Cultural Awareness from February 19-21. Jamal Story is a recipient of a grant from the TACA Bowdon & Embrey Family Foundations Artist Residency Fund.