Performing Arts: Dance
April 11, 2015
Virginia Johnson, Dance Theatre of Harlem’s star for three decades and now its Artistic Director, slipped through the curtains of City Center to greet the audience and announce that this evening’s performance was dedicated to Mary Hinkson (1930-2014), a long time soloist with Martha Graham Dance Company, who mastered both ballet and modern techniques. Certainly DTH demands its dancers to flip between techniques, sometimes within a piece. Robert Garland “Return” (1999) challenges its dancers to be starched one moment and funky the next, as though they had split personalities.

First on the program was “Agon” choreographed by George Balanchine in 1957 and set on DTH in 1971. This masterpiece with its subtle wit, alternately bold and plaintive score by Igor Stravinsky and unforgettable images, such as when a man holding a woman’s hand suddenly lies at her feet, shows the DTH performers to be precise in their many battements and wide swinging arms and as impersonal as Swiss waiters. “Coming Together” choreographed by Nacho Duato in 1991, set on DTH on 2015 feels frenetic, coming right after “Agon”, but also rich in movement invention and ravenous in its use of space. Duato’s striking set hangs like a burnished, twisted triangle, a symbol of how irritants can create startling dynamics and show off DTH at its best.

Ashley Murphy was winningly vulnerable in “In The Mirror of Her Mind” choreographed by Christopher Huggins in 2011, premiered by DTH in 2013. As she runs repeatedly to three men, a father, brother, and lover played by Da’Von Doane, Anthony Savoy and Samuel Wilson, she reveals her relationships and dependencies by how she jumps on them. In this work, Murphy is asked to forget that she is a ballerina; she moves like a desperate child unsure of who to be, whom to be with, how to stand on her own. When the three men fade off, Murphy trembles at the edge of the stage.

Despite the rousing score of “Return,” that includes James Brown, Alfred Ellis, Aretha Franklin, and Carolyn Franklin, the dancers are not free to revel for long. They snap back to elongated spines as though checked by an unseen authority; their brief holidays from balletic correctness seem like guilty pleasures. In contrast to “Revelations” which closes so many programs for Alvin Ailey Dance Company on a triumphant note, “Return” could leave an audience wondering about DTH’s allegiance to classical ballet as its core.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers

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