Clifford Breland figures the unshakable urge to make dances got into him one long-ago evening when his mother went to a juke joint near Picayune, Mississippi, and left him waiting in the car. As a boy of six, he reckoned it wouldn't hurt to just look. Moments later he stood in the doorway, transfixed by the sight of all those black folks grooving to "The Thrill Is Gone."
Three decades later, Breland and his California-based Bre Dance Theatre are about to open a triple bill at the BAM Harvey Theater. Joining them this Thursday and Saturday are Maia Claire Garrison's M'Zawa Danz, from Brooklyn, and Corrine Bougaard's Union Dance Company, from London. The lineup (which includes Philadanco Wednesday and Friday) is part of "Black Dance: Tradition and Transformation," a new annual series hosted by 651 Arts, an offshoot of the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Being black isn't the only trait this trio shares. They also grew up with postmodernism, which helps explain Breland's penchant for mixing modern and ballet with the blues; Bougaard's blend of computer animation, capoeira, and kung fu; and Garrison's fusion of circus tricks with rituals from West Africa. "I dabbled in every technique," says Garrison. "It's impossible to move and not have them all come out of my body." Her troupe will show excerpts from The Panther Peace, a work in progress.
Union's Dance Tek Warriors, a futuristic look at heroism, blurs any neat definitions of black and white dance. Bougaard, whose ancestors came from South Africa, Europe, and Indonesia, credits Doug Elkins, some Chinese monks, and the video game Tekken with shaping the piece. Globalization indeed.