How an “ounce of faith” changed choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie’s life

How an “ounce of faith” changed choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie’s life

Can dance be a teaching instrument? In choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie’s piece “Ounce of Faith,” the answer is yes.

A poly-rhythmic suite of movements played out over a soundtrack of jazz and gospel, Moultrie’s “Ounce of Faith” premiered Wednesday as part of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s summer season at Lincoln Center.

The work, his first for Ailey’s main company, celebrates the role that education played in leading Moultrie down his own path of artistic expression and portrays ⁠— as Moultrie said in an interview with ALL ARTS ⁠— the “physical moment of expressing gratitude to people who helped you get to where you got in your life.”

Behind the Scenes of Darrell Grand Moultrie's "Ounce of Faith." Photo: Nicole Tintle.
Behind the Scenes of Darrell Grand Moultrie’s “Ounce of Faith.” Photo: Nicole Tintle.

For Moultrie, this was his elementary school teacher, Gwendolyn McLoud, who introduced him to an extensive repertoire of dance, music and theater when he was a young student in Harlem. “She pushed me and she supported me, as she supported many other kids, too, and she really opened our doors.”

The choreographer overtly thanks his teacher in “Ounce of Faith” by way of a voice-over piped in about halfway through the performance. In it, he speaks of what her trust in his talents meant to his development. “If someone has an ounce of faith in you,” Moultrie explained in the recording, “it can change your life.”

Moultrie tracks his start as a choreographer to a fateful trip, led by McLoud, to see Ailey rehearse in the third grade. As he sat and watched, he found himself more drawn to the rehearsal directors running the steps than the dancers completing them.

“At the time, in Harlem, we were dancing and we had a small dance group,” Moultrie said. “I always had this sense of directing and wanting to make up dances. And so when I saw people doing it on a large scale in a theater, I thought, ‘Oh, wow, I could do this.’”

As a teacher, Moultrie infuses what he learned from his own experience as a student with a drive to draw out a dancer’s individual strengths.

It’s number one to build them up, to build their confidence. So it’s less about pushing out steps and giving out choreography,” Moultrie said. “It’s looking at each individual artist, which is one of the hardest things any teacher or choreographer has to do.”

“You have to look at each individual — no matter what school you’re at, no matter what level they are — and push them to their limits while also helping them appreciate their assets,” he continued.

In “Ounce of Faith,” Moultrie’s focus on the potential of the individual shines. After an intense opening solo performed by Khalia Campbell, the ensemble cast bursts onto the stage in an ecstatic display of colorful costumes, sweeping attitude pirouettes and leg extensions that lavish in smooth musicality. At various points throughout the rest of the piece, a quick twitch (imagine a mouse trying to free its foot from sticky paper), first danced by Campbell, echoes through the bodies of the other dancers. In these moments of highly contained fluttering, the gesture (an ounce of passion or faith in movement) is shared and passed down among the cast — much like the teaching of choreography or a life lesson.

Moultrie’s “Ounce of Faith” will repeat as part of Ailey’s Lincoln Center program on June 15 and 16, along with Ronald K. Brown’s “The Call.”

Top Image: "Ounce of Faith." Choreography: Darrell Grand Moultrie. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Credit Photo: Paul Kolnik.