The Wideman/Davis Dance Company – Dance to Make a Difference
By Cynthia Boiter
Watching Thaddeus Davis dance feels a little bit naughty – especially when his wife Tanya Wideman is watching him, too.
There’s an intimacy there, evident in the contraction and release of a muscle, yes, but the sense of voyeurism has less to do with his undulating body and more to do with the look on Davis’ face; reflections of a world of understanding about important things; passion, justice, humanity, self. This compelling expression is not surprising if you know Davis: it is precisely what the dance company he and Wideman started a few years back is all about. It is why the Wideman/Davis Dance Company is.
With a history of performance and choreographic work that spans both the country and genre, including such stellar dance companies as the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, the Joffrey Ballet, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, the Julliard School, and Alonzo King’s Lines Contemporary Ballet, Davis and Wideman joined forces, both in art and marriage, to realize a unique vision – one that would allow the two phenomenally talented artists to, according to Davis, “create a dialogue about the human condition and bring varying communities and ethnicities together while blurring the lines between dance, film, theatre and reality.”
And they’ve done so, as the saying goes, to rave reviews.
Take their 2005 performance of The Bends of Life, a work they choreographed and danced to the music of the blues, jazz, folk, and the lexis of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., commissioned to celebrate the renowned Quilts of Gees Bend exhibit at Auburn University’s Museum of Fine Art. The choreography traces the journey of two individuals as they dance through history from slavery to sharecropping to the crusade for civil rights in the Southern quilting community of Gees Bend, Alabama. The work is a testimony to perseverance and an exaltation of the beauty and art found in the functional quilts made by Alabama’s Black women, and all quilting women, throughout the country.
“Dancing this piece was a privilege,” says Tanya Wideman, who shares responsibilities in both performance and choreography in the company. Wideman, who was named Best Female Dancer of 2001 – 2002 by Dance Europe Magazine and was Principal Dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, left her post with Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet in San Francisco to join her husband in the creation of the Wideman/Davis Dance Company.
The Wideman/Davis Company also performed work inspired by the national media coverage of Hurricane Katrina victims and survivors vividly witnessed by millions during the days-long wait for assistance in the aftermath of the storm. Based on Images explored the naked sense of helplessness the country felt as we watched the story of abject vulnerability unfold on our television screens. The dancers made use of movement, dialogue and actual images in their original choreography and performance, presented in May 2009 at, among other places, Drayton Hall on the campus of The University of South Carolina where the couple is in residence this year.
Thaddeus Davis, who has a background in academics having completed a BFA from Butler University, has also done residencies at prestigious companies and universities like Julliard, Alvin Ailey, Arizona State, and Ballet Austin. In 2002, Dance Magazine named him one of the “25 to Watch in the World” and the 2002 premiere of his choreographic work, Once Before Twice After was cited as one of the top ten moments in dance by the New York Times. In 2003, Davis was the recipient of the Choo San Goh Award for Choreography for his work with the Fugate/Bahiri Ballet in New York.
The list of the couples’ accolades goes on.
Having danced, achieved, accomplished, and excelled, it is at once interesting and remarkable that Davis and Wideman find themselves creating and performing in Columbia, South Carolina. Drawn here by the burgeoning dance program at the university, both dancers are indeed happy here. Happy enough to want to make it their home – or at least a sister home sharing with New York City where they regularly perform at their favorite venue, the Calhoun School on the Upper West Side.
In what has become classic Wideman/Davis style though, the couple, inspired always by the social issues that surround them, not only to live, create, and dance here in Columbia, they create and dance about Columbia. The substantive issue they have most recently tackled? Homelessness – a problem many of us filed away long ago under the headings too large and too much trouble.
Davis doesn’t see it that way.
Born in the South but having lived from one side of the country to the other, the American homeless had become part of the social landscape Davis expected to find wherever he traveled – until he reached Columbia, South Carolina.
“In most places, the homeless are everywhere you look,” he explains. Other than the obvious places like the Oliver Gospel Mission, he couldn’t find where our city’s homeless were sleeping and squatting and living their lives. Then he became aware of a trend.
“I’d notice the same guy,” he says. “One minute you’d see him down in Five Points and a few minutes later he’d be out on Assembly Street or up on Main. Then I noticed that this was happening with a lot of guys. They’d be one place in the morning and another place in the afternoon. That’s when it hit me. Movement! They were constantly moving and therefore less visible to the casual viewer – but homeless nonetheless.”
This observation of the invisible homeless sparked the inspiration for Wideman/Davis’ current project – making visible the homeless of the city. As part of their USC residency the couple researched local homelessness last fall, choreographed a new piece based on their findings, and performed it, with their entire company on stage, at Drayton Hall in December. The Company, including Thaddeus, Tanya, Hannah Lagerway, Vincent Lopez, and three apprentices from the university, Carolyn Bolton, Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, and Jackie Bowles, also took the show to New York City in January where they performed it at the Calhoun School.
Next on the Wideman/Davis docket is a performance on May 14th at the future home of the Nickelodeon Theatre, the old Fox Theatre on Main Street. Among the pieces the company will perform is the world premiere of an interactive site specific collaboration with local visual artist, Michael Krajewski, which should produce some interesting, and lasting, artistic results.