Posted on Mon, Dec. 6, 2010

By Merilyn Jackson

For The Inquirer

At the Painted Bride over the weekend, Charles O. Anderson’s Dance Theater X took us to the past and the future to show us what our world could look like in 20 years.World Headquarters features photographic projections, which Anderson designed with Bill Hebert and Troy Dwyer, of President Obama’s first days in office, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Nazi death camps. They show us that with just a few more cataclysmic events, our planet could take the few of us left back to our more primitive selves. The World Headquarters of the title has fallen, as represented by the images of the World Trade Center towers falling, and society has broken down.

Hailing from Richmond, Va., Anderson earned a master of fine arts from Temple University and is now an associate professor of dance at Muhlenberg College, where he also heads the African American studies program. For World Headquarters, he was inspired by the late science fiction writer Octavia Butler, but also drew on Essex Hemphill, Sam Shoemaker, and Walter Benjamin for what was a bit too much text that he wrote with Dwyer.

Anderson virtually turned the Painted Bride into a makeshift encampment. He had a section of seating removed and replaced with scrounged objects from children’s books to walkie-talkie, from teepee to TV. The dancers visited this set from time to time but danced mostly on the stage, which held additional seating to accommodate the large audience.

As Professor Bankole Olamina, Anderson led the eight ragtag survivors of “The Pox” in dances ritualistic and mournful. Anderson’s robust dancing hangs from his powerful, undulating shoulders and ripples electrically through his body’s bent knees, essed torso, and imploringly released fingers. Raising the staff he wields, he is clearly the Moses of this tribe.

In the beginning, he leads them in the piece’s most poignant dance. All wear mesh hoods and, with bodies bent over in grief, propel themselves forward as best they can.

It was good to see Michael Velez dancing locally again. He’s late of Koresh Dance Company and working in San Francisco. As Zebulon Pierce, he represents the progenitor of what could be the next generation of these survivors. Shavon Norris and Karama Butler stood out even in the group dancing, but all performed this work they helped create with conviction and skill. In this parable of parables, Butler, as Olamina’s daughter, states: “God is change.”