"I really needed to pull in some professionals and go for broke and see what happens, just push the envelope, because people weren't taking me seriously," says Karen Stewart, professor and director of dance at Miami-Dade Community College's North Campus, and founder of the nine-year-old Black Door Dance Ensemble. "We were looked at as a cute little company. But I've always said from the very beginning that I wanted us to be a professional company that toured and represented South Florida and the African-American community."
Last year Stewart set about attaining her goal by recruiting several dancers from acclaimed companies such as New York City's Dance Theatre of Harlem, Joffrey Ballet, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; Boston's Impulse Dance Company; Seattle's Aluja Ballet; even Colombia's Ballet de Cali. Nine dancers in all (two of whom remain from the previous incarnation of the company) will form a new configuration of Black Door, which Stewart originally began as a venue to develop young minority dancers. This August they'll fulfill Stewart's ambassadorial dreams as featured performers at the Dance Festival in Aurillac, France. This weekend at the Colony Theater, however, marks their debut as a cohesive unit in a program called Fierce Creatures.
The "fierce" part of the title, explains Stewart, is a dance-lingo compliment, employed to point out a highly skilled dancer. "Creatures" refers to the multiethnic makeup of the troupe, which includes Haitian, Jamaican, and Colombian members. ("Different creatures from different walks of life: sensual, exotic, and exciting. Edgy overall," Stewart says.) Five pieces will highlight plenty of classical ballet set to gospel, jazz tunes, and more. Stewart also promises "a large abstract African dance" and "lots and lots of duets."
Stewart struggles not just for respect but to run her company all by herself. A couple of grant writers, a public-relations consultant, and an attorney handle external business matters while she takes care of hiring dancers and set designers, costuming, lighting, and choreographing pieces. A Herculean task but all part of rising to the next level for a supremely confident Stewart: "If dancers can come down here from companies all over the place, from Colombia to France to Haiti, that says something for what I'm doing." Something serious.