Stepping Out

Dissonance Dance's Black to Silver festival celebrates ''black gay arts''

“I can’t think of many dance concerts that I’ve seen where it’s been two black men dancing a story that was LGBT,” says Shawn Short, head of Dissonance Dance Theatre. And those stray dance pieces about the gay black experience have shined a harsh light, focused on issues such as HIV stigma and violence. Says Short, “I never saw anything that was a positive reflection of the community.”

So last year Short decided to take action, offering as part of Dissonance’s season the program “Black to Silver: A Black LGBT Experience,” featuring works that Short describes as telling “stories of my community by my community.” A year later, Black to Silver has grown to become a full weekend billing itself as “DC’s Only Black Queer Dance Theatre Festival.”

In fact, Short touts this year’s festival “as a weekend of black gay arts.” The expanded program includes theatrical performances from local actors, stage artists and spoken-word poets. Plus, there’s an affiliated theatrical production Jared Shamberger, who is gay. Adams Morgan’s Sitar Arts Center presents Shamberger’s one-man, 12-character comedy 12 on Friday, April 11, and Saturday, April 12, at 8 p.m.

But dance remains the festival’s principal focus, with a second dance company, Taurus Broadhurst Dance, added to the lineup. In all, five choreographers, including Short, will present works exploring concepts of identity and relationships within the black LGBT community.

“They’re really excited,” Short says of some of his company’s young black gay dancers. “They say, ‘I’m really excited to be able to dance stories that are us. We’re not in the back, holding a woman. We’re not pretending anything. This is literally our lives.”

A native of D.C. and veteran of the Washington Ballet, the 35-year-old started Dissonance in 2007 in part to prod development of more work for minority dancers, as well as more work straddling the classical ballet/contemporary dance divide. Short aims for Dissonance to become “D.C.’s flagship contemporary dance company,” but one connected to the art form’s classical ballet roots.

As for Black to Silver? Short sees it growing to become a larger festival with a national focus generating buzz about new works examining the gay black experience.

Black to Silver: A Black LGBT Experience is Saturday, April 12, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, April 13, at 7 p.m., at Joy of Motion’s Jack Guidone Theater, 5207 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Tickets are $15 to $25 for the festival. Call 202-540-8338 or visit ddtdc.org.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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