IMPRESSIONS: Dance Theatre of Harlem at New York City Center

IMPRESSIONS: Dance Theatre of Harlem at New York City Center
Henning Rübsam

By Henning Rübsam
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Published on April 21, 2024
Kamala Saara and Micah Bullard. Photo: Jeff Cravota

Dates: April 11 - 14, 2024
Nyman String Quartet No. 2: Choreography: Robert Garland  //  Music: Michael Nyman
Costume Design and Execution: Pamela Allen-Cummings  //  Lighting Design: Roma Flowers
Take Me With You: Choreography: Robert Bondara  //  Music: Reckoner by Radiohead
Lighting and Costume Design: Robert Bondara
Pas de Dix:  Choreography: George Balanchine  //  Music: Alexander Glazunov  //Lighting recreated by: Andrea Sala  //  Costume Design: Pamela Allen-Cummings  //  Repetiteur: Kyra Nichols
Blake Works IV:  The Barre Project  //  Choreography: William Forsythe
Music: James Blake  //  Lighting Design: Brandon Stirling Baker
Costume Design: William Forsythe, Katy A. Freeman
Original Sound: Benjamin Young  //  Staging & Choreographic Assistance: Jodie Gates, Noah Gelber, Benjamin Peralta

Dance Theatre of Harlem’s opening night was a smashing success!

The company’s all too brief New York City Center season opened with a beautifully diverse yet balanced program. New artistic director Robert Garland brought back his 2019 Nyman String Quartet No. 2. Juxtaposing classical ballet vocabulary with jazzy freestyle gyrations could reflect the dichotomy of Michael Nyman’s composition, which blends western and South Indian styles. The spirit of community is Garland’s holy grail. While his deep respect for ballet as an art form holds him back from experimenting with its vocabulary, he uses it skillfully assembling a refined anthology of steps. Quintets broken up by a solo danced by David Wright culminate in an ensemble finale. The only thing these joyful dancers don’t get to do during their communal celebration is break bread.

three men with dark skin dance in unitards with blue bottms and white and black striped tops... as two men in the background appear to be jogging , one man in the center jumps up in front of them
David Wright, Kouadio Davis and Micah Bullard in Nyman String Quartet No. 2. Photo: Steven Pisano

Celebrating partnership on equal terms makes Robert Bondara's new pas de deux Take Me With You a relevant addition to the repertoire. Amanda Smith and Elias Re support one another in off-center balances and they propel themselves through space in precarious sweeps. One probably shouldn’t try these steps at home, but assisting a partner in a risky situation might inspire or reinvigorate relationship. Whether establishing their presence with clapping hands or snapping fingers, the two personalities come to trust one another to the sounds of Radiohead’s Reckoner.

Micah Bullard and Amanda Smith in Take Me With You. Photo: Jeff Cravotta

George Balanchine’s Pas de Dix is a nod to the company’s roots. Co-founder Arthur Mitchell had been a star at New York City Ballet, and therefore Balanchine works belonged on the meal plan from the very start of the now fifty-five-year-old Dance Theatre of Harlem. Kamala Saara sparkles in the role originally created by Maria Tallchief. Kouadio Davis’ relaxed demeanor fits his frame. One instantly feels confident that he will get the job done, and he does so with shimmering wit. Partnering Saara, he turns down his heat for her to radiate freely. The corps dancers get to show their prowess in a string of solos. With the exception of a female duet in which the women focus too much on smiles rather than dancing, this Raymonda homage, staged by former NYCB ballerina Kyra Nichols, comes off as an apt showcase for these classically trained dance artists.

Kamala Saara and Kouadio Davis in Pas de Dix. Photo: Jeff Cravotta

I reviewed William Forsythe’s Blake Works IV at its premiere a year ago, when outgoing artistic director Virginia Johnson had commissioned this masterwork for her dancers. It fits these artists like a glove. I especially delight in seeing Stephanie Rae Williams apply her mastery after returning from maternity leave; and I enjoy witnessing veteran dancer Ingrid Silva and Lindsey Donnell mix it up with newer company members — all spectacular.

This is a program for our time — respectful of the past and confidently embracing the future.

Dance Theatre of Harlem Company in "Blake Works IV (The Barre Project)"; Photo: Theik Smith

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