Zari Le’on Brings Riveting Dance Performance to GCU
By Doug Carroll
Photos by Jerry Bauer
GCU’s Student Recreation Center and the Zari Le’on Dance Theater were a perfect fit Wednesday night.
The intimate, second-floor Sanctuary proved just the right space for the troupe from Santa Cruz, Calif., which is spending an artist-in-residence week with the University’s Dance Department.It also seemed appropriate that the Rec Center, a training base for college athletes, would host “glitterBlack: Suite Soul,” a unique collection of dance and musical influences that Zari Le’on describes as “contemporary vernacular.”
Le’on is herself a superbly conditioned, muscular dancer whose moves in a high-energy, 45-minute performance were often spectacular and always engaging. Although her highly physical style owes much to African-American dance pioneer Katherine Dunham, she is staking out her own territory, marrying ballet, jazz, African and Latin forms with up-to-date club and hip-hop elements.
The result is a hearty stew that blends the past and present of dance. Le’on calls the “glitterBlack” show a “kinetic sermon.” It’s at once radical, riveting and uplifting, and it doesn’t let go.
The seamless program of nine selections was performed by Le’on, Kitami Sarai Blakey and Shaunah Trumbull. (A fourth member of the company, Kali Fontanilla, did not make the trip to Phoenix.)
The spiritual “Sweep Over My Soul” by Luciano began the performance in a powerful way, carried by the pleasing alto voice of Blakey. “Love Drum Talk” by Babatundi Olotunji featured a “Stomp”-like percussive sequence by the women and preceded an a cappella rendition of the Clark Sisters’ “Is My Living in Vain?” All three can sing, as evidenced again on “Sometimes” by Bernice Johnson Reagon.
Jazz fans in the audience appreciated John Coltrane and Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” and the up-tempo “Rose Rouge” by St. Germain, the latter of which had the crowd clapping along. The a cappella spiritual “Down by the River” had an irresistible street-corner vibe, complete with snapping fingers. Then came a rousing finish of “The More I Get, the More I Want” by Teddy Pendergrass and the spiritual “Shine on Me,” both set to a disco beat.
The fresh perspective of Le’on, who learned to dance in community programs but has a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Michigan, is ideal for a campus setting. This is one sermon worth seeing and hearing. Kudos to GCU’s director of dance, Susannah Keita, for bringing Le’on here to broaden the horizons of her students.
GCU’s talented Dance Ensemble opened the evening with its performance to “Concierto Para Quinteto” by Astor Piazolla. The ensemble, under Keita’s direction, consists of Kelsey Alexander, Bethany Baumer, Ashley Brown, Victoria Brown, Alexa Hockless and Alexandra Montoya.
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.