“The Opulence of Integrity” lives up to its name



Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali said, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” and that’s exactly what the Opulence of Integrity did.

On Thursday, Nov. 30, choreographer Christal Brown’s INSPIRIT dance company brought “The Opulence of Integrity” to the Dibden Center for the Arts.

Many who entered the theater unsure of what to expect from this performance became engaged while watching and left inspired. Chattering came to a halt as performers slowly filed on to the stage prepared to express their powerful stories in one of the best, most artistically enriched performances I’ve ever seen.

The show was composed of four separate acts that flowed together as one, each having its own focus and theme. The dances were representative of the life and legacy of Muhammad Ali to explore the inner identity struggle for all African American men.

Ali was one of the greatest boxers of all time—perhaps the greatest— and went on to become a very influential advocate for racial and social justice. At the height of his standing as world champion, he was stripped of his world heavyweight title following his refusal to fight in the Vietnam war. He ultimately went on to regain his title before retiring from the ring.

INSPIRIT is a theatrical dance group composed of all African-American men and Brown. The dancers in this performance were Billie Joe Bouey, a choreographer, performer and dance educator;

Ricarrdo Valetine ,a dancer, activist and co-founder of Brother(Hood) Dance; Tyrone Bevans, a dancer, choreographer and visual artist; and newcomers to the troupe, Alexander Diaz and Wendell Gray.

Brown, a performer, choreographer, educator, activist, mother and co-founder of INSPIRIT, integrates elements of hip hop and martial arts to tell a social justice narrative. The heart of the performance is in her ability to translate raw emotion into simple repetitive movements. The dancing was sharp yet fluid. There was repeated leaping, running and rolling. Performers would move in contorted positions and used elements of martial arts to represent the constant fight they face.

Some of these unusual dance moves would evoke temporary laughter among the audience. The dancers all had convincing facial expressions according to the tone of the moment. The overall tone of the performance was always matched by choreography, lighting, costume and music.

All dancers were unified while still being individual. There were many incorporated ripple effects and duo dance scenes, illustrating the collective struggle between all men in the performance as they all embodied Muhammad Ali’s character while maintaining their own identities.

The audience could feel the message in the dances and respond appropriately with cheers, gasps and stunned silence. The dancers’ hard work showed in the sweat flying off their bald heads and the squeaks of their turns on the floor. Their out-of-breath chants held the pain of the story they told.

The performance incorporated humor, pain, anger, confusion and love.

Although the dancing itself was immaculate the performance would not have been complete without the help of special effects from the Dibden theater crew. The dancing may have taken the dancers breath away, but what took the audience’s away was the sensational reveal of hulking shadows of the dancers on the back wall from the lighting effects and the compelling scenes of dancers swirling in a cloud produced by a fog machine.

The theatrical elements of this performance are also incredible. Props, multiple costumes and projected images of Muhammad Ali and other iconic images helped tell the story. The soundtrack for this performance incorporated many recognizable songs blended into something unrecognizable.

The show was thought-provoking and stimulating. The performers embodied strength, courage and grace all throughout the roughly hour-long performance. My attention was not lost for a single moment.

At the end of the show, performers and the choreographer stayed to answer questions from the audience and shared more about themselves individually and about the message of the performance. They said all of them have been a part of the dance group for varying amounts of time. The performers with less experience showed equal heart and dedication to their performance both technically and spiritually.

With stunning choreography, special effects, music, performance and message, “The Opulence of Integrity” certainly lived up to its name.