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Release: Immediate

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company explores African-American heritage

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, an acclaimed ensemble dedicated to exploring the African-American heritage in modern dance, will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 23, in Hancher Auditorium on the University of Iowa campus. The concert is part of Hancher's FREEDOM Group Innovation Afoot series.

The Jan. 23 concert program will feature "Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder," choreographed in 1959 by Donald McKayle; Kevin Ward's "Offering," which was given its world premiere by the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in 1997; "Awassa Astrige/Ostrich," choreographed in 1932 by Asadata Dafora; and another company original, Debbie Blunden-Diggs' "In My Father's House," which was premiered in 1997.

A discussion at 7 p.m. in the Hancher Greenroom, featuring Artistic Director Jeraldyne Blunden and choreographer Kevin Ward, will be free to concert ticketholders.

The Jan. 23 performance will conclude a week-long residency by the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. The public is invited to a free, community event at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21, in Iowa City's Old Brick. With special guest Gerald E. Myers, director of humanities at the American Dance Festival, this event will explore the relationship between African-American dance and the black church. The American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C., has made possible many of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company's reconstructions through a series of extended residencies.

As an illustration of the connections between spirituality and dance, Jerome Stigler of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company will perform excerpts of Talley Beatty's "Mourner's Bench," which is danced on a church pew. The Jan. 21 event will conclude with a community sing, led by Iowa City's Victory Temple Church Choir.

The residency will also include Jan. 20-21 movement workshops at Mann, Wood and Twain elementary schools in Iowa City, West Branch Elementary School, Northwest Junior High School in Coralville, and Washington High School in Cedar Rapids.

On Jan. 22, the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company will present a Hancher matinee performance for area school groups through Hancher's Stage Door Series and will direct a choreography workshop in the UI dance department.

"Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder," set to traditional music, depicts the suffering and hope of inmates on a southern chain gang. The work was reconstructed as part of the "Black Tradition in American Modern Dance" project of the American Dance Festival, supported by the Ford Foundation.

"Offering" is performed as a memorial to James Truitte, who was a dancer and teacher with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. The work recalls his signature roles and the works he staged for the company, presented "like photos from a cherished album."

In the solo "Ostrich," Sierra Leone native Asadata Dafora (John Warner Dafora Horton) depicted the graceful but powerful movements of the earth's largest bird. The work was created in 1932 for what would become the African Dance Troupe of the Federal Theatre Project. During the Harlem Renaissance, Dafora exposed black Americans to authentic examples of African dancing and influenced the thinking and work of African-American artists.

Dayton native Jeraldyne Blunden founded the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in 1968. She has led the company for 30 years, and during that time she has become a respected advocate for African-American culture. Among her many honors is a 1994 MacArthur "genius grant," and she was the first female recipient of the Kuzaliwa Award for contributions to the African-American community.

Blunden has painstakingly led the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company to national and international prominence by recovering and breathing new life into lost classics and expanding the African-American dance repertory through the creation and presentation of new works.

Tickets for the Jan. 23 Hancher performance are $28.50, $24.50 and $22.50. UI students and senior citizens qualify for a 20 percent discount, with Zone 3 tickets available to UI students for $10. Tickets for audience members 17 or younger are half price.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. This number will be answered by box office personnel prepared to offer assistance with handicapped parking, wheelchair access and seating, hearing augmentation and other services. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

The residency and performance of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company are supported, in part, by grants from the Iowa Arts Council and Arts Midwest.

The FREEDOM Group is the major corporate sponsor of the Innovation Afoot Series through the University of Iowa Foundation.