Sly and the Family Stone told the world to “Dance to the Music.” And David Dorfman Dance did just that on Friday night at The Egg. In its “Prophets of Funk,” the ensemble of eight contemporary dancers got down and higher on the music of Sly and the Family Stone.
Wearing bell-bottoms, fringed and beaded vests and platform shoes, the dancers initially appeared to be taking a nostalgic trip through the late ’60s and early ’70s. But Artistic Director David Dorfman was after much more. What he sought and achieved was a portrait of a tumultuous time, one in which racial tensions, drug use and a sexual revolution was fracturing the foundations of American society. And the music of Sly and the Family Stone, the first interracial Top-40 band, reflected that.
The dance began with the ensemble skipping freely through the aisles, joining an already carefree Dorfman who was kicking and hopping his way across the stage. As he exits, Raja Kelly — in a huge Afro and sunglasses — portraying Sly entered to recorded applause.
The dancers, syncopated hip-swaying and head-bopping to their own beat, joined him in a free-spirited opener to “Turn Me Loose” and “Stand” that harkened back to “Soul Train.” But it wasn’t long before this carefree, heady fun was tainted.
Dancers stumbled and fell to “Higher” as the image of smoke loomed in the background. One dancer seemed to be having a bad trip as she abandoned all propriety, then underwent vicious tremors until she broke down.
The racial issue that was driven home too in “Don’t Call Me …” Men with puffed-up chests shoulder bumped each other in a sign of dominance. Moreover, interracial couples endured endless interruption when pairing off that also spoke of the promiscuity of the times.
Dorfman also inserted a recording of an interview of Sly Stone on “The Dick Cavett Show” in which Sly sounded intoxicated. Onstage, a tall white man stood over Kelly while the other blacks huddled together in shame.
Through the ups and downs, a bouncy Dorfman, perhaps representing Sly’s “Everyday People,” would occasionally return, oblivious to the drama.
At times, “Prophets of Funk” didn’t hit its mark. In one segment, a dancer asked others to show him their moves, which the others followed. While part of the pop culture of the day, it didn’t offer the comic relief that Dorfman was probably aiming for. But “Prophets of Doom” didn’t need humor as it was mostly exuberant and just plain fun.
The dance ended, too, on a wonderfully moving high note. Everyone in the audience was invited up to the stage to move any which way they wanted to “Dance to the Music.” In the mass of people, there was young and old, white and black, men and women. In one glance those who stayed in the seats could see that the world has changed for the better.
Yes, we still are politically fractured, but at least the color and the sex lines have blurred. Ultimately, “Prophets of Funk” signaled optimism — something we all need.