Choreographer and teacher Karen Stewart: "Black is my favorite color. If you open my closet, you'd swear I was married to an undertaker." Stewart laughs at her reason for naming her dance troupe the Black Door Dance Ensemble.
Another obvious reason: Her dancers are black. "I wanted to have my own company where I could mold them and train them into the style that I like," Stewart explains. That style is highly eclectic, ranging from classical to jazz to modern. Founding the company eight years ago was a way to give talented young black dancers an opportunity to train, acquire discipline, and ... dance naked. Okay, maybe not totally naked, just partially nude.
Stewart, a professor of dance at Miami-Dade Community College's North Campus and an adjunct professor at the University of Miami, is not running a company of strippers. She just likes to do things a bit differently than the common corps de ballet. This Sunday's Black Door performance is titled The DARING Proposal. In this case DARING is an acronym for Divas Arriving Ready in Neon Glamour. There are six divas in all. One will arrive onstage in a sheer costume. Another will be tastefully topless. "I've always wanted to tackle certain things," Stewart says, "but I didn't have the maturity in the company members. One of those things always was nudity or seminudity."
As for the neon, we have no idea how it will look or where it will be shining.
Aside from showing a little more skin than usual, the company is performing an out-of-the-ordinary opening number, which Stewart refuses to describe. Suffice it to say the audience will not be plopping into chairs, paging through programs, and watching the curtain open. Stewart promises it will not be dull. Pieces will be set to jazz tunes by Miles Davis, Al Jarreau, Herbie Hancock, as well as to a Brazilian song by Flora Purim, and traditional live West African drumming. The audience will receive a program, but it will only disclose the names of the dancers, not what they're doing or why. That will be left to the master of ceremonies. South Beach nightlife denizen Gilbert Stafford will be lounging on an antique love seat, providing the play-by-play from one side of the stage. "I wanted something where people would go, 'Well, what's going to happen next?' And I wanted to make sure they were going to come back for the second act," Stewart explains. "He's going to pull it all together."
After years of coordinating all the company's affairs by herself, Stewart is finally starting to see the progress. This year she was able to hire a grant writer and has engaged a publicist to help spread the word. Her ultimate goal is to build Black Door into a professional modern-dance company that will tour the world. Stewart wants the troupe to give minority youth better access to artistic outlets such as dancing, but Black Door is essentially open to anyone who wants to join. They just may end up like two former members: One now performs with the Alvin Ailey Repertory Dance Theatre and another dances with the Morgan Scott Ballet Company, an offshoot of the Joffrey Ballet.
"When you read through history, everything bad is black: black cat, black eye, black plague, blackmail," Stewart notes. "I decided to have a door that would open and show all the different hues of ethnic people -- from your brightest-complected blacks to your darkest. But you have to open that door. Don't be afraid to open that door, because something good is behind it."