Back in October, the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Ohio’s oldest modern dance company, opened its 50th season with a world premiere of a full-length ballet. The Bench, A Journey into Love was all about family.
It told the story of a pair of lovers and their three children through movement, voice, and an original jazz score.
Choreographer Keisha Lalama rehearsed the dancers and singers in a sequence where the mother offers her two daughters wisdom before the elder one marries. The three dancers manipulate a voluminous skirt of flowing fabric, swooping and dipping, ducking under and through the bright material as it fills with air like a sail.
The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, affectionately known as DCDC, is all about passing gifts from one generation to the next. Founder Jeraldyne Blunden’s daughter Debbie Blunden-Diggs is the company’s third artistic director, behind her mother and Kevin Ward, who took the helm after Jeraldyne’s death in 1999. Debbie’s been with the company since she was 12 years old. When she graduated from high school, she had a choice to make.
"I decided to continue to dance. And actually, it was quite interesting, my mother was opposed to it. My mother said, 'No you should probably…,' and my father’s like, 'No, if this is her dream, then we need to support it.' And so, I’ve been here ever since."
Now there’s a third generation following the pathway first blazed by Jeradyne Blunden. One of Debbie’s two daughters is taking a year off from college, and dancing with DCDC2, the pre-professional company.
"And so now we have Alexis; it’s really tough for her. You know, on some days you don’t want anybody to know that you’re related to me or Jeraldyne. And some days you are in the glow of what it means to be a part of that family and a part of that legacy," says Debbie.
But she and Alexis aren’t the only ones to grow up in the DCDC family. This is Sheri “Sparkle” Williams' 45th season with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company.
"As the oldest and longest sustained member of the company, I am a dancer, first and foremost, but also a “mom” [LAUGHING] and I say that, you know, lovingly, endearingly about the other dancers," she says.
Sparkle is one of 13 dancers in the first company. She’s DCDC’s fitness trainer, and every dancers’ day begins with her morning class.
Veteran dancer Devin Baker has been with company for five seasons, performing the role of the father in The Bench. Devin knows firsthand why dancers form such close relationships.
"You know, we come from all over and these dancers are my friends, they’re my family," he says. "If something was to go wrong, one of them would know, they would have to translate that back to my family, like, we are all we have, in a sense."
"I’m a new member to the family, yes, but they definitely have welcomed me with open arms," says Columbus native Alexandria Flewellen. At 22, she’s just earned her BFA in dance from Wright State University.
"I came to the company through DCDC2, the second company, and working my way up, it’s been the same amount of push and drive for you to be a better dancer and a better artist, and that’s the love that’s given every day."
It all goes back to the vision of the founder, back to the legacy Jeraldyne Blunden passed on to her daughter and to the entire DCDC family.
"I think her legacy is much bigger and much broader than dance," says Debbie Blunden-Diggs. "Her legacy is of love and nurturing and allowing you a place to put your best foot forward, a place that allows you to stand even when your best foot is not forward. I always tell people, I can show you better than I can tell you who we are and what we do. But it is very special. It’s extremely special."
The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company’s 50th season celebration will continue through the spring of 2019. You can learn more about DCDC’s upcoming performances and special anniversary events at dcdc.org.
Culture Couch is made possible by a generous grant from the Ohio Arts Council.