DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM
April 7, 2016
Thirty-two years ago, on September 25, 1984, I witnessed a remarkable performance by Dance Theater of Harlem’s principal ballerina, Virginia Johnson as Giselle in Frederic Franklin’s Creole Giselle. Today, the celebrated ballerina leads the Dance Theater of Harlem into a new age.
Greeting the opening night audience in a scalloped, floor-length red dress, Ms. Johnson expressed her delight at returning to City Center for the 2016 season. Without an intermission, the evening sandwiched dance performances in-between awards and a thanks to funders.
Ms. Johnson selected two women choreographers, one from the ballet world, and the other from the modern dance community to create new works for the first program.
Best known for her re-staging of classical repertory performed—rather sensationally—by the all male Les Ballet Trockadero, Elena Kunikova choreographed Divertimento to the music of Mikhail Glinka. Intent on paying “tribute to classical choreography” the three couples competently coursed through the modest piece.
Considering Ms. Kunikova’s background, it was not surprising to see witty winks infiltrate the sextet, like a nod to Swan Lake’s “pas de cygnets’ and Giselle’s daisy peeling scene (perhaps signaling Ms. Johnson?).
Smartly, Ms. Kunikova featured the male dancers’ athleticism and high-flying jumps. Occasionally, two of the female ballerinas, Ingrid Silva and Lindsey Croop, faltered (in fairness, Ms. Silva was a last minute replacement for Nayara Lopes). However, Chrstyn Fentroy retained an animated compsure throughout the piece.
A much adored teacher, Dianne McIntyre has been racking up honors upon awards. One of the early contemporary dancers to take up residence in Harlem during the gritty 1970’s, Ms. McIntyre has developed a highly personalized choreographic and performance style that emphasizes her very long lean arms, legs, and voice.
By far the most adventurous work on the program, McIntyre’s Change was set to traditional music performed by the Spelman College (a historically black institution in Georgia) Glee Club. Three dancers --- Alison Stroming, Lindsey Croop and Ingrid Silva – represented three different women reflecting three different eras. Rising up and down on pointe shoes, the dancers’ torsos hunched over, and unlike the controlled ballet arm, their limbs freely swung up over their heads, and serpentined down functioning as part of the body’s conversation. Occasionally, a hand was placed on a hip suggesting a cleaning lady bent over the floor but that image flashed against defiant women shouting, legs spread apart in deeply rooted knee bends.
Resident choreographer Robert Garland brought his fine brand of ballet and funky, popular dance to the fore in his tribute to Gladys Knight ((Arthur Mitchell Vision Award Honoree) featuring the always delightful Dance Theater of Harlem students and Return set to James Brown, Alfred Ellis, Aretha Franklin, and Carolyn Franklin. Finally, the dancers--particularly the impressive and flirtatious Da’Von Doane--broke out their “moves” proving ballet dancers can move—really move ahead.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis
(photograph by Jeff Cravota)