As television, the 90-minute "Dance Black America" on PBS tonight (8 p.m. on Channel 24; 9 p.m. on Channels 28 and 15) is deplorably slipshod. But there's so much spirit, invention, skill and class in the choreography and performances that even the murky, woozy, confusing and often incompetent video approach can't utterly wreck the experience.
The telecast documents the important four-day festival presented in April, 1983, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. However, directors D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus can't decide whether they want to preserve stage performances, hang out with participants or use the material for a video history of black dance in America. So they do all three--badly.
There's no focus--sometimes literally--and frequently no sense that Pennebaker and Hegedus have any idea what will turn up next in their viewfinders. Performance footage alternates with vintage film clips and encounters with the dancers backstage. The cameras endlessly zoom, pan and tilt trying to cover some part of the dancing, but often supply no overview of a group dance.
The longest, slickest, most familiar piece on view--Louis Johnson's "Fontessa and Friends," danced by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater--is also the least typical, for the festival really has major revelations to offer . . . revelations about old black social and theatrical dance idioms that had sensational originality before they were ripped off, cleaned up and simplified by the white American show business establishment.