The purpose of the American Dance Platform, an annual showcase at the Joyce Theater, can be found in its name. The idea is to give exposure — during a week when many presenters are in town for the Association of Performing Arts Professionals conference — to companies who could use some.
This year, the showcase is curated by the beloved choreographer Ronald K. Brown. Three companies each get two nights. In a program note, Brown recalls how much it meant when his troupe, Evidence, first appeared at the theater (where it returns next week). He wants to pay it forward.
But when Evidence had its debut at the Joyce, more than 20 years ago, it was already apparent that Brown had a distinctive, extraordinary choreographic voice. During the first two programs of this year’s showcase, no such revelation was on the platform. (The third company, waheedworks, opens Thursday.)
“New York Is Burning,” a production by the recently formed Les Ballet Afrik, has already received much support. Commissioned by Works & Process at the Guggenheim Museum, it has been developed through residencies and multiple performances. But at the Joyce on Tuesday, it still looked awfully ragged.
The show has its heart in the right place — its motto is “Love yourself” — and its aim is educational. The title riffs on “Paris Is Burning,” the seminal documentary about vogueing and ballroom culture, and sections resemble public service announcements about that world, especially its queer, Black and Latino members, and its ethic of acceptance — important lessons, here under-processed as theater.
Fortunately, the show includes two ballroom commentators, Karma Stylz and Karma Banks, who nearly derail it with their shade-throwing insults, improvisatory raps and costume changes. If only the dance sections maintained this ballroom energy more consistently.
In solos, Omari Wiles, the group’s Senegalese-born artistic director and choreographer, most clearly demonstrates what he calls “Afrikfusion,” incorporating West African elements into vogue. The dancer known as Primo switches with uncommon facility between vernacular steps and bravura ballet moves. Other dancers, particularly Alora Martinez, spark for a moment. But in general, the choreography, borrowing from b-boying and house, is unremarkable, and the execution too often slack.
Out of respect for predecessors, the show projects video of a ballroom competition from the 1990s, and thus reveals or reminds us how much more vogueing can be. Such style, such invention. A show that could transfer that onstage would be something. “New York Is Burning,” though, is, as Wiles admits, “only a taste.”
B. Moore Dance, founded in Dallas in 2018, is a more conventional contemporary dance company. Although all three works on its program are choreographed by the group’s artistic director, Bridget L. Moore, they are remarkably distinct from one another — swerving in search of a voice.
“Southern Recollections: Romare Bearden” starts excitingly big, the dancers sliding across the stage, arms windmilling, to a Wynton Marsalis jazz-orchestra evocation of a train. Costumes by Fernando Hernandez, whose work is integral to all three pieces on the program, reproduce the bright colors favored by the Harlem Renaissance painter Bearden, and Moore combines some period style and jazz elegance with lots of pirouettes and arabesques.
At times in this piece, the choreography locks into a groove, and the layerings of the agile dancers coming and going call to mind the masterful work of Brown. (Moore was a member of Evidence for 10 years.) Structure isn’t a strength, though. Sections tend to fade out inconclusively, even confusingly. A segment set to John Coltrane is bizarrely perky.
But if Moore’s ear for music is erratic, her taste is intriguingly varied. “Rose Gold” is set largely to meditative piano and film-score classical selections. The choreographic mode is close to that of a lyrical number on “So You Think You Can Dance?,” undulating and stretching emotively. Hernandez’s costumes bring in the rose and gold, among other shades, and provide long skirts for the women to whip around while spinning. As the angelic vocalist Damon K. Clark sings K.D. Lang’s “Wash Me Clean” live, the work hovers between lovely and cheesy.
“Uncharted Territory” stumbles along the line between bold and ridiculous. The music is techno-experimental (Kangding Ray, Muslimgauze), and Hernandez’s outfits are futuristically deconstructed, with exposed wire frames and grille masks. Although the vocabulary isn’t vogueing, the format is similar, with the dancers advancing like fashion models down a runway.
The dancing needs to match, and justify, the outrageousness of the costumes, and it doesn’t quite. The American Dance Platform exposes promise and work to be done.
American Dance Platform
Through Sunday at the Joyce Theater, Manhattan; joyce.org.