Tarik O’Meally and three others covered their faces, waved their arms, shook profusely and gracefully fell to the floor.
The message behind the captivating “Panic Room” dance performance: confront a person’s inner demons and trying to understand yourself along with the identity of those around you.
O’Meally choreographed the piece, which includes an eerie speech from Alfred Hitchcock, at a dress rehearsal on Jan. 26, one day before the 35th annual choreographers showcase at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park.
“I am just very grateful to be able to be in it for two consecutive years,” said O’Meally, 29, a Landover native. “It feels like a big deal, but it also feels like one show and I got to get another one and get going just to have some longevity.”
The showcase gives upstart and professional artists a chance to improve their craft before experienced judges and perform at a major venue. Although the university houses the event inside the complex’s intimate dance theater, the show is produced by the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission.
The event, possibly one of the longest consecutive dance showcases performed regionally in the nation, began in 1983 at the Kreeger Auditorium of the Greater Washington Jewish Community Center in Rockville. Two years later, it moved to the Publick Playhouse in Cheverly, managed by the park and planning commission.
In the 2001-02 season, the showcase relocated to newly built Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in an effort to attract the D.C. area dance community and highlight the importance of the art form.
The six performances Jan. 27 mainly highlighted modern dance with some ballet and tap. In addition, each artist created the work within a two-year period.
Christel Stevens, performing arts specialist in the commission’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Division, said at least 45 people auditioned for this year’s showcase. Nelja Yatkin and Nelly van Bommel, awarding-winning dancers and choreographers, served as the adjudicators to select the program.
More importantly, each piece had to be produced within a two-year period.
“Because these choreographers are up and coming, they are very eager to show their best work,” Stevens said. “You feel that energy coming from the stage.”
Dance has always been influenced among the Black community, said Ronya-Lee Anderson, who produced a performance named “Canon.” The piece featured her and four other performers who read titles and passages from various books, tossed them toward Anderson as she swayed her body through a personal journey.
“Dance, for centuries, has been tied to their culture, food, family and religion,” said Anderson of Hyattsville, who performed for the second time in the showcase and also sings and plays the ukulele. “Dance has always been a part of African-American culture and expression.”