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IMPRESSIONS: Dance Theatre of Harlem at the City Center Dance Festival

IMPRESSIONS: Dance Theatre of Harlem at the City Center Dance Festival
Henning Rübsam

By Henning Rübsam
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Published on April 13, 2022
DTH Company in "Passage"; Photo by Theik Smith

Choreography: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Robert Garland,Claudia Schreier and Marius Petipa

Gala Program: Tuesday, April 5 at 7pm

Program A: Friday, April 8 at 7:30pm


Dance Theatre of Harlem’s gala opening on Tuesday night at City Center glittered in sequins and glamorous couture. Filmed tributes to its founder Arthur Mitchell and to the evening’s award winner Debbie Allen highlighted the need for dance institutions that give people of color an equal chance to become immersed in the art form.
 Artistic director Virginia Johnson introduced Allen who confessed that she had wanted to be a ballerina but at first had not been accepted at the Houston Ballet School because of the color of her skin.  (Later a Russian ballet teacher there, noticed her and secretly enrolled her in the school.  According to  The  " By the time the admissions department discovered the situation, they were so impressed with her skills that they let Allen stay in the program.")
The admiration for Mitchell’s work and activism served as an inspiration for Allen's career and the eventual founding of her own dance academy, which - as she happily announced - happens to be moving into new state of the art quarters in Los Angeles this month. 
Finding the right tones of celebratory euphoria and heartfelt genuine concern, she emphasized that dance is also a healing art. Therefore she hopes to open the doors of her dance academy (as well as those of DTH) to Ukrainian children having been displaced by the ongoing war. 
The program’s triple bill combined the sounds of Cesare Pugni, Stevie Wonder, and Klezmer music. 
a woman in red leaps towards a company of dancers whose arms are raised in high spirited exultation.
Dance Theatre of Harlem Company in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's "Balmouk" ; Photo by Christopher Duggan
Klezmer music originated in the large Jewish arts scene of the Ukrainian port city Odessa (as well as other Eastern European cities) early in the last century. Here, played and sung live in Yiddish by The Klezmatics, the dancers don’t quite feel at home, yet moments in this extended version of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s BALAMOUK ring true.  When everyone else leaves the stage and dancer Ingrid Silva surveys the space alone, her focus and stillness draw me in. Authenticity in the community also transpires briefly when the women of the cast assemble around her. But as soon as the men rejoin, the work meanders between trying very hard to please the audience and trying even harder to reassure one another that a good time is being had. Extending this “shtetl shtick” for the dancers of DTH simply was not a good idea.
Ingrid Silva wearing bold orange tight bodiced, sleevless dress with a flouncy mini skirt, stands in front of a line of women. We see Silva's entire body but behind her we only notice the other women's arm shapes.
Dance Theatre of Harlem in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's "Balmouk" Ingrid Silva in Front ; Photo by Christopher Duggan
Robert Garland’s HIGHER GROUND opens the program and listening to Stevie Wonder’s tunes guarantees a good experience. Garland’s love and respect for the artist is evident and he illustrates the songs with care. The dancers look well rehearsed and make their way through changing patterns; the work itself moves along without a glitch.
Solo artist Anthony Santos balances in a gorgeous arabesque. He is wearing orange pants and an orange top.
Dance Theatre of Harlem  Company Artist, Anthony Santos in  Robert Garland's "Higher Ground." Photo by Theik Smith
The dancers who  looked timid in Tuesday’s performance, relax into the more laid-back style of this particular Garland work on Friday. With their shoulders dropped, they connect with one another. I am grateful I had the opportunity to see it again.
a male dancer dressed in orange looks out ward towards stage right as his female partner, also in orange leaps toward him
Dance Theatre of Harlem Company Artists Kouadio Davis and Alexandra Hutchinson in Higher Ground. Photo by Theik Smith.jpg
Three Black ballerinas in classical tutus of with crushed velvet and rhinestone bodices and matching crushed velvet head wraps stand in unison, on one leg with the other extended backward on the floor. All different shades, their tights and toe shoes match their various skin tones and they look poised and elegant with their arms out stretched.
Dance Theatre of Harlem Company Artists:  Alexandra Hutchinson,  Ingrid Silva,  and Amanda Smith  in "Odalisques Variations"  from Marius Petipa's  Le Corsaire. Photo by Theik Smith
A glitch at the end of the first of Petipa’s “Odalisques Variations” (from Le Corsaire) proves to be the most exciting moment of the gala evening. After an engaging performance of her solo, dancer Yinet Fernandez ever so briefly balances before her pointe shoe seems to collapse under her. Within a split second she recovers and beams happily in a glorious final pose on one knee. Taking on the "Odalisques Variations" is a noble task. Here, too, the respect for the work seems to stiffen the dancers’ necks and shoulders. This should be easily remedied. The Limón Dance Company which emphasizes the freedom of these parts in their daily classes is housed on DTH’s premises. 

The company of dancers dressed in white costumes with blue tree brances painted across the top of their outfits. Here a circle of men lift their female partners high above their heads, as the women reach upward with their arms and faces and have their legs extended in broad splits. Joyous.Dance Theatre of Harlem  in  Claudia Schreier’s "Passage" : Photo by Theik Smith

On Friday’s program Claudia Schreier’s ensemble work PASSAGE replaces the Variations. Jessie Montgomery’s score played live by an octet under the baton of David LaMarche supports the dance’s traveling trio and quartet formations. In each grouping one performer swims through space ingeniously suspended by their peers. All too soon the magic dissolves into more conventional partnering routines and patterns. Yet Schreier moves the skillful dancers around with ease. Nicole Pearce’s lighting and costumes by Martha Chamberlain complete a look that is intriguing, even if it might further contribute to the work’s somewhat heavy-handed spirituality. 


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