CINCINNATI — When you watch a Revolution Dance Theatre ballet, you’ll see the typical pointe shoes and tutus, but you’ll also hear afro-drum beats and spirituals. Most importantly, to artistic director David Choate, you’ll see Black stories told through Black dancers.
He founded the company to promote diversity in Cincinnati’s fine arts and now as the only African American company in residence at the Aronoff Center, Choate’s dancers get to kick off Black History Month, telling those stories on one of the city’s most prestigious stages.
Choate got his start in the performing arts as a lighting technician and a stage manager, but the more dance he got to see from behind the scenes, the more interested he became in trying it out.
“It wasn’t a hard sell once I knew what it was,” he said.
He graduated from Cincinnati’s School for Creative and Performing Arts as a dance major, focusing on ballet and modern dance. Choate then joined the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company’s second company, where he said he got the chance to dance alongside a diverse group of performers and train under many African American choreographers.
When he came back to Cincinnati, he was disappointed to discover there wasn’t any comparable company doing what DCDC was doing. Choate then decided to create his own.
“My goal is to set it up to where the next person who wants to do something to what we’re doing will have it easier,” he said.
It started as dance classes in his basement about 10 years ago, then it evolved to after-school and summer programming, until eventually, with the help of ArtWave, Revolution Dance Theatre earned a residency with the Aronoff Center in 2017. The group has been performing there ever since.
“The content that we’re putting on really lets people know who we are and what we do,” Choate said.
His most recent show is no exception. For the first weekend of Black History Month, Revolution Dance Theatre is performing “Curves, Curls and Choreography.” Choate describes it as a celebration of Black bodies, Black hair, and Black heritage, even if and perhaps especially if others choose not to celebrate.
“Whether you’ve got big hair or a bigger body, a big personality or whatever, it is to know that who you are is perfect and magnificent and there’s only one you so that’s the one we want,” he said.
The importance of the show and what it represents is not lost on Choate or his dancers, considering the company’s position in Cincinnati’s art scene.
“Not only do we celebrate Black History, but we get a chance to be a part of Black history,” he said.
Choate said that’s why besides an all-Black cast of dancers, he worked to incorporate the work of other Black artists, musicians and performers.
“We’re proud of that and holding onto it and trying to do our job,” he said.
As the company and its dancers grow in talent and experience, Choate said he looks forward to a day when groups like Revolution Dance Theatre are no longer unique.
“It feels surreal at times when people say you made history by doing this,” he said.
He believes ballet, dance, and all fine arts are for everybody, and hopes one day his students work as professional dancers in prestigious companies across the country, and in Cincinnati.