“40 Years Forward,” Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) archive exhibition tour, wraps up a year-long celebration of the oldest continuously operating dance company in Dallas, but for Melissa M. Young, the exhibition chronicles her artistic home.
Young, who was honored with the Natalie Skelton Award for Artistic Excellence in 2016, has been with DBDT since 1994. She started with the company as a dancer and went on to serve as a Rehearsal Director and as Academy Director. She is currently the company’s Associate Artistic Director.
For her, the exhibit is a timeline of her personal development as an artist. “Dallas Black Dance Theatre has given me the opportunity to uncover layers of who I am,” Young said.
The exhibition showcases playbills, photographs, posters, costumes, small set pieces, fliers, articles and other pieces of memorabilia documenting the dance company Ann Williams founded in 1976.
Jaimi Parker, the Exhibits Coordinator in the University of North Texas Libraries’ Special Collection, curated the exhibition. Young is impressed with the legacy built for her.
“It makes me feel proud,” Young said. “Even in the early years of the company, what surprised me is the early successes of the company and Mrs. Williams’ standards for the company. It really stated at level 10.”
The publications displayed reflect the company’s advancement, artistically and aesthetically. Playbills from the earlier years are simpler and more generic.
Through four decades, the company’s documents become more distinctive and sophisticated.
“As we’ve evolved, our voice is solidified and how we present ourselves to world is clearer,” Young said.
While the company’s image shifts, the dedication to excellence remained constant.
“The expectations Mrs. Williams had for her dancers has never changed. She expects her dancers to be talented, intelligent, well-rounded and independent individuals who can handle different situations. When you join the family of Dallas Black Dance Theatre as a dancer, you feel the excellence and you go, ‘Ah, I know what will be expected of me’,” Young said.
A poster commemorating DBDT receiving the Texas Medal of Arts Award in 2017 demonstrates the company’s commitment to artistic integrity.
One costume is especially important to Young. It is a dress her mother made for one of her solos.
“When I see the costume, it makes me cry.”
The exhibition reflects extraordinary opportunities for the company.
Photographs show DBDT dancers meeting Her Majesty, The Queen Elizabeth II on the stage of the Meyerson Symphony Center in 1991. Annual gala programs chronicle galas featuring Harry Belafonte, Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles.
Programs mention choreographers who were at that time beginning their careers and would go on to great success. Letters and posters commemorate national and international tours, including performing Porgy and Bess at the Kennedy Center in 1998 and special performances for Lincoln Center Out of Doors in 2004.
Materials from DBDT’s performances at the 1996 and 2012 Olympics evoke a thrilling memory for Young. She danced with DBDT at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, GA.
“I’ll never forget waiting in the wings, waiting to perform, and hearing us announced in French and we thought we’ve gone truly global,” Young said. “All these different experiences are more than any dancer could ask for.”
The future trajectory of DBDT is evident in “40 Years Forward.” Elements from previous annual productions of DanceAfrica are included in the exhibition as the company prepares for this year’s presentation.
The 12th annual DanceAfrica will honor the life of National DanceAfrica founder, Dr. Charles “Baba Chuck” Davis, celebrating Africa’s heritage and ancestry. Davis’ words of wisdom and mantra of “Peace, Love, Respect for Everyone” will be knitted into the performances at Moody Performance Hall on Oct. 6 and 7.
Following a parade at 9:30 a.m., a free, family-friendly marketplace will be held in the Arts District on Oct. 7 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The marketplace will feature a variety of vendors, food, art, children’s activities, face painting, a fashion show as well as performances by local artists.
Young believes the exhibition will inspire audiences to take a deeper look at the company.
“I hope our exhibit educates them on the many complex levels of Dallas Black Dance Theatre. It’s kind of like a patchwork quilt. I hope it raises the level of curiosity,” Young said. “This will allow the public to come and see a performance with new eyes. As we move forward, I hope it entices them to be supportive so they can be a part of history in the making.”
“40 Years Forward” is currently on display through Sept. 30 on the 4th floor of the Dallas Public Library, Pan African Connection, and The Paul Quinn College Library. From Oct. 16-30, the exhibition will be on display at NorthPark Shopping Center. Learn more about Dallas Black Dance Theatre: www.dbdt.com.