Performing Arts: Dance
April 9, 2015
This week the forty-six-year-old dance staple, Dance Theatre of Harlem, returned to New York City Center for a four performance run showcasing the range of 21st century ballet.

The opening night program began with a special tribute to the multitalented Geoffrey Holder featuring “Dougla,” a 1974 work he created for Dance Theatre of Harlem. It’s a piece that quickly became a company signature, and rightfully so; the African and Indian influences add a dynamic, lively spark to the company’s traditionally classic repertoire.

A perfect programmatic segue ensues as Ulysses Dove’s breathtaking “Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven” (1993) follows. This work was created by Dove during an extreme time of loss in his life in a (successful) effort to - in his words - “Create a poetic monument over people I loved.” It’s austere and mesmerizing in its demand of stark, quick delivery of movement by the dancers clad in all white. A very technical work, the dancers appear to still be settling into it with the exception of Anthony Savoy who beautifully embodies the slick agility intended.

On a lighter note comes “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux” choreographed in 1960 by George Balanchine and set to the long lost score Tchaikovsky originally intended as part of “Swan Lake.” The pas de deux is a short and sweet balletic whirlwind danced by the smiling Ashley Murphy and Samuel Wilson. The most memorable moments come in the showy partnering sequences that play with speed, technique, and musical acuteness.

Without a doubt, Nacho Duato’s 1991 “Coming Together” is where Dance Theatre of Harlem company members truly shine. This performance marked the company premiere of this powerful, abstract dance that parallels the unrelenting music of Frederic Rzewski. In true Duato form, the movement has an edgy modern flare and calls for articulation of the body in intricate ways. One moment a cannon of jumps and turns rushes across the stage, and the next, a gold lamé curtain falls as three female dancers in floor length dresses embark on their own fiery journey.

Throughout “Coming Together,” sentences from an inmate’s note are repeated over and over amidst the movement and music. It all comes full circle as the final formation of dancers in their one-letter-bearing shirts at last spell out “I THINK” – the way in which the note begins, a phrase we’ve now heard dozens of times. It’s refreshing to experience the company in a work such as this, which truly suits them.

Closing the program is “Vessels,” the Harlem-born Darrell Grand Moultrie’s 2014 creation. It’s certainly in keeping with the bold, swift energy of the evening program, however its strength lies in moments of simplicity – fleeting stillness or suspended pose.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Jenny Thompson

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