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In “Roots and Remembered Rituals,” the inaugural program for choreographers Kevin Joseph and Lakai Worrell’s fledgling company Purelements: An Evolution in Dance, powerful performers attempt to do what few have successfully accomplished. The troupe engages in a mix of ballet, modern, hip-hop, jazz, and West African dance, and emerge without it seeming contrived.
Joseph and Worrell—lifelong friends who started out as hip-hop dancers—pay homage to the African diaspora with repertoire works that colorfully intertwine the contemporary with the classic, using rippling choreography and countless dancers. Kwatakye, an initiation ritual featuring 14 teenage boys in full tribal regalia, is a riveting fusion of ballet, hip-hop, and African movement, as the youths chant in Ghanaian, pop their chests, slip into pirouette turns, and leap over each other’s heads to a booming, percussive tune by Dogma and the Afro-Cuban Rhythms. Their energy is electric, and the whooping audience adds to the intensity. The ceremonial throng culminates with five village elders anointing the boys with white warrior paint and leading them into manhood. Forces of Nature’s Abdel Salaam makes a guest appearance as a commanding spiritual guide.
The preceding Nina the Prodigy is an affecting modern-dance tribute to Nina Simone, with eloquent solos by a leggy Anika Ellis; a sassy, hip-swiveling Lauren DeVeaux; and a defiant Dina Wright. In a passionate trio, they thrust their arms, swirl to the floor, and audibly exhale with every extended motion.
Three works in progress make up the second half of the program, which reaches further into ballet and modern-dance vocabularies. Frantic dancers claw at themselves, shriek, and convulse on a journey to find peace and purification in Fitnah. The group later searches for identity during a palimpsest of conflicting emotions in Idle Progression. These pieces are not as strong as the first two—which gestated for several years—but they have the potential to be just as good in time.
The sole (and surprising) disappointment is hip-hop-laden The Source. Technical sound problems aside, the well-versed dancers seem disjointed and lost—a situation not improved by a noisy industrial track by Quetzatl or a tacked-on rap stint with MC Nemiss. The steps themselves are well chosen, but the application doesn’t do them or the performers justice. The main highlight of this work is lyricist and hip-hop dancer Erwin Thomas’s opening summation of the evening’s program. He takes a deep breath, places his hands on the floor, leans forward onto his head, suspends his legs in the air, and says, “Breath births the soul, that soul has to express. That soul . . . must move.” And move they do.