DANCE THEATER OF HARLEM PROGRAM B
April 29, 2014
The dream of reviving the Dance Theater of Harlem became a reality last year under the helm of Artistic Director Virginia Johnson. Once a principal ballerina with DTH in the days after Karel Shook and Arthur Mitchell founded the company, Ms. Johnson took her company on the road and back to NYC for a season at the Rose Theater.
This year’s crop of dancers brings a renewed enthusiasm and sheen of sophistication. Intent on combining classical and contemporary choreography, Program B featured Robert Garland’s “New Bach” (2001), Ulysses Dove’s “Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven” (1993) and Donald Byrd’s “Contested Space” (2012).
Classical steps get a slight, funky twist in Garland’s “New Bach.” It highlights the dancers ease at executing ballet basics that melt the taut body into easy hip and shoulder rotations. Lines of dancers pass through each other giving the audience an introduction to the company.
In contrast, Byrd’s “Contested Space” deconstructs the ballet space deploying dancers in large gaping leg extensions and flashy lifts. Sections break apart more like be-bop jazz than classical ballet, forcing the dancers to scurry in and out of positions.
Commanding the heart of the program, Ulysses Dove’s “On The Front Porch of Heaven” challenged the dancer’s ability to shift from speedy steps to total stillness. Set to a haunting score by Arvo Part, church bells toll—a reminder that Dove worked, lived and died in the era of AIDS. Spareness underscores the piece’s off-center balances, whiplash turns on one leg, and signature wide legged deep knee bends on a tilt. The piece demands total concentration on the part of the performers because split-second timing accompanies one body replacing another on stage.
The nascent Dance Theater of Harlem is blossoming featuring promising women and very strong men and resuming its place on the nationally recognized, New York City dance company grid.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis