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Flash Review 2, 10-5: More than Horseplay
DTH Dances for Our Lives
By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2001 Darrah Carr
NEW YORK -- Dance's ability to resonate
emotionally with the audience was proven again in Dance Theatre of Harlem's revival
of Domy Reiter-Soffer's "Equus," seen in a mixed program Tuesday at City Center.
This is a masterful, haunting work, based on the play by Peter Shaffer. The ballet
tells the story of a 17-year-old stable boy who, for no apparent reason, blinds
six horses. We see him undergoing psychiatric treatment and learn of his domestic
conflicts, sexual confusion, and fascination with horses as romantic, mythical
Ramon Thielen gave a compelling performance
as the stable boy, striking a perfect balance between exaggeration and understatement.
Reiter-Soffer did not shy away from exploring the complexities of sexual identity.
We see Thielen caught between the eager embraces of his girlish lover, played
by Bethania Gomes, and his recurring fantasies involving five extremely masculine
horse-gods. Antonio Douthit, Ahmed Farouk, Preston Dugger, William Smith, and
Mark Burns created incredibly convincing portrayals of the horses. Their prancing,
stalking, and mane tossing was so real that I began to believe they really were
half horse, half man; or, in this case, half horse, half god.
Given their duality, Thielen worships
them, but also wants to conquer them. One moment he lies submissively at their
feet, caressing their knees and legs. In the next moment, he mounts them, aggressively
stabbing their eyes and creating an image of both dominance and destruction. The
ballet is full of lasting images, at once terrible and beautiful. Reiter-Soffer
is able to combine narrative and dance without relying on mime or literal gesture
to convey ideas and emotions effectively.
It was virtually impossible to examine
the final ballet on Tuesday's program, in its first performance this season, without
the lens of September 11. Maybe it was the full-page ad for American Airlines
that ran alongside the program copy. Maybe it was the program description of the
dance as "a fusion and celebration of classical and jazz erupting into what is
decidedly American." Maybe it was the fact that the ballet, Billy Wilson's "Concerto
in F," was originally called"New York." Most likely, it was the scenery, albeit
beautifully designed by Carl Michel, that fixated me. An enormous scrim painted
with New York City skyscrapers dominated the stage and, for me, the dance.
The company performed beautifully
in front of the scrim -- with energy, sensuality, and passion. Dressed in brightly-colored
leotards, they exuded confidence and pride as they skitted nimbly over the notes
of George Gershwin's music. But I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. It certainly
made me think, however. What is "decidedly American"? Skyscrapers? Symbols of
controversial capitalism? Jazz? Symbols of soulful expression? Fusion? Athleticism?
Pride? Or, perhaps, just this: the opportunity to question. Whatever the answers
according to one's personal politics, it does seem helpful in this time of universal
questioning to turn to art as both a source of investigation and inspiration.
The program also included "Viraa,"
choreographed by Laveen Naidu and previously reviewed here by
Alicia Mosier. It is a large and lengthy work, divided into four movements,
staged for fourteen dancers, and set to a pleasing score by Ernest Bloch. The
choreography was also pleasing, but not particularly gripping. Nevertheless, in
the midst of several rather bland arrangements of the corps, soloist Eric Underwood
shone brightly. His skill is flawless. Moreover, he dances with such ease that
his technique seems as natural as breath.
Lowel Smith's new "A Pas de Deux
for Phrygia and Spartacus," also reviewed by Alicia, caught my attention, however.
Melissa Morrissey and Duncan Cooper are perfectly matched and gave an impassioned
portrayal of the legendary Thracian gladiator Spartacus and his beloved wife Phrygia.
The choreography alternated between large, heart-sailing, blood-racing lifts and
small, intimate gestures of exquisite tenderness -- for example, his hand on her
cheek, her head on his chest.
Before September 11, I might have
found Phrygia's anguish at her husband's imminent departure for war to be overly
dramatic. I might have found Spartacus's wild, angry gestures with his knife to
be overly literal. But the other morning, I saw a picture in the paper of an Atlanta
reservist kissing his wife and kids goodbye. Suddenly, my perspective changed.
The thin veil between art and life lifted. I realized not only how timeless the
themes of love, war, and grief are, but also how timely the dance's portrayal
of them is. Morrissey and Cooper's performances reaffirmed that now, perhaps more
than ever, art can increase our empathy, encourage greater examination, and provide
a recognizable outlet for our grief.
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