Speaking the Human Language: Dissonance Dance Theatre Goes Beyond Pretty Shapes

By Damon Foster

“I didn’t feel anything!” yells choreographer Shawn Short, while giving notes to a dancer in a recent rehearsal. Turning to the rest of the company, he further advises, “Audience members will remember you when you give them something they can feel. What’s the point of hitting a shape if I can’t feel anything from it? Live in the moment!”

As founder and artistic director, Short hopes his “human feeling” philosophy will translate on stage when Dissonance Dance Theatre (DDT) premieres his new production East to West: Dances of a Minority Mind Saturday, November 16th, 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, November 17th, 7:30 p.m. at Joy of Motion Dance Center’s Jack Guidone Theater. General admission is $18.00 online, $25.00 at the door.

Described by Short as a vibrant collection of new and old works where Western movement style (i.e. contemporary, hip hop, funk) meets an Eastern-minded sensibility (classical ballet), East to West is DDT’s first full-evening concert of its 2013-14 season.

Through six dances, Short strives to highlight the company’s versatile style range, while engaging the audience on a roller coaster of emotional themes such as love, lost, death and self-acceptance. Says Short, “East to West is about conveying those human stories that we can all relate to regardless of our racial, cultural and societal differences, yet at the same provides entertainment and enjoyment.”

Discovering and relaying movement reflecting of the times has been Short’s constant passion since the company’s inception in 2007. With classical ballet at the core, he fiendishly loves to embellish on the dancers’ bodies, drawing on his modern, jazz and African dance training, while never missing a moment to challenge his artists to “bring themselves” to the choreography.

“It’s my work, but I also want the audience to see the dancer’s testimony within it,” says Short. “Humans connect to humans not things, not shapes, or even lines. We connect to spirit. And as artists, we have to be courageous enough to place our life experiences into the shape or into the line.

He further asserts that the concert dance experience can be a safe space for audience and artist alike, “ It’s not easy to let one’s self be seen vulnerable on stage or out in society for that matter. More than ever, we need safe, non-judgmental spaces to cry, to laugh, to love, to make mistakes and be who we are—human. And to know that we are not alone. The world of theatre is such a space.”

Now in its seventh season, Dissonance Dance Theatre is Washington, DC’s only African-American managed contemporary ballet company, and is the flagship program of Ngoma Center for Dance. Click here to purchase tickets for East to West: Dances of a Minority Mind!