After barely a year in the post, April Berry is no longer the artistic director of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre. In a phone call today, Sheena Payne, executive board member of DBDT, confirmed that Berry stepped down from the position but declined to give details. Berry herself said in a recent email, “unfortunately, I am not able to discuss my departure from Dallas Black Dance Theatre.”
A former dancer with Alvin Ailey, Berry was hired last fall to replace the Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s venerable founder-artistic director Ann M. Williams, who was then 76. Berry officially started September 2nd last year.
Berry’s hiring was supposed to guarantee future stability for the troupe. It’s the city’s longest-running dance company and has had no leader other than Williams for its nearly 40 years. When Berry arrived last fall and up through this past spring, a number of profiles and interviews with her appeared in the media (DMN, for example). But she had been hired too late to have much influence this past season (the November opener, ‘Director’s Choice,‘ for instance, was entirely Williams’ selection). But by February, on TheatreJones, veteran dance critic Margaret Putnam declared of the company’s Cultural Awareness Series that a new DBDT was beginning to emerge:
Is this the same Dallas Black Dance Theatre that I have watched for the last 35 years? Yes — and no. The inflated showmanship of old disappeared Friday night … giving way to substance. That the program consisted of four very familiar works and only one premiere did not harm its case, because despite familiarity, each of the old ones looked fresh and new, vigorous yet nuanced.
But pretty much since then — silence. And no public appearances with the company have been reported. No mention of Berry’s involvement with DBDT’s participation in the Soluna Festival in May was ever made, for instance, nor in the recent Dallas DanceFest.
The first truly public sign that Berry’s status with the company had changed came a month ago with the August 25th announcement for ‘Vision Renewed,‘ DBDT’s current and 39th season. The choices of dances and choreographers would have marked Berry’s first real imprint on the organization’s future, and one would have expected the press release to lay out some ideals, goals or changes — all of them to be picked over by observers interested in the city’s leading cultural organizations, particularly its African-American ones.
Instead, Berry was never mentioned by name in the release. The only people quoted were executive director Drew and associate artistic director Melissa Young.
In fact, in her phone call, board member Payne said that Young — who was a dancer with the company (1994-2005) before becoming director of the Dallas Black Dance Academy in 2012 — would be steering DBDT this season. She’ll be helped by founder Williams “who will continue as advisor.” Young has been with the DBDT in some capacity for more than 20 years.
“We feel,” Payne said, “we have the right people in place right now for the season.” A search committee to find a replacement for Berry, Payne said, “is part of our plan” but could not give any dates about when it might be formed or any target date for a new hire.
Berry doesn’t often post on her Facebook page, though in her work history there, she has listed herself for more than a month as “Former Artistic Director at Dallas Black Dance Theatre.”
Berry moved to Dallas last year after leaving her teaching post at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. When contacted by email and asked, if she could not discuss her departure, could she at least give some indication of her future plans, Berry wrote only that “I am in the process of finalizing my plans now and will be happy to contact you when all are confirmed.”
Opening its new season, DBDT’s next scheduled performance is ‘Dance Africa’ this Friday and Saturday, Oct 2-3, at Dallas City Performance Hall.