featured photo

The Kitchen
Brought to you by
Body Wrappers; New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review 2, 9-29: Take Me Down to FunkyBalletAfrican Town
DTH Tours the World in 'Apollo' Program

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- Dance Theatre of Harlem's "Apollo Show" program, seen Wednesday, is so nicknamed as it's a City Center reprise of the same bill which met with great popular acclaim at the Apollo in June. Comprising works by Arthur Mitchell, Augustus Van Heerden, Laveen Naidu, Geoffrey Holder, and Robert Garland, the program was chock full with enough crowd-pleasing theatrics, catchy music, and some solid dance to indisputably sweep any talent show in town.

The 1999 "South African Suite," in eight movements (choreographed by Augustus Van Heerden, Laveen Naidu, and Mitchell) was set to joyous, jangly music by the Soweto String Quartet and Arthur Mitchell (though it's not made clear who contributed what), performed live by the ensemble on a platform which elevated the musicians above stage level, and any visual distraction to the audience. I can't say whether the music is representative of music from Soweto, but it reminded me of bluegrass grounded with lots of African percussion -- the best of both worlds. Long-limbed Caroline Rocher began the dancing with langorous poses in silhouette, showing a highly refined aesthetic of stretching the legs so straight while sitting in second that her calves and heels raised off the floor, and walking on toe (in pointe shoes) and on her hands to recall the elegance of a giraffe.

Other songs featured partnering with multiple turns, or infectiously energetic group sequences which intermixed African dance segments with ballet, which tended toward the rudimentary. While not exactly natural bedfellows in my mind, after a while the two vocabularies seemed to catalyze one another, while at other times the one offered relief from the other. With the exception of a bunch of sloppy double tours en l'air by the men, the handsome company showed off in ballet sections. Camille Parson demonstrated that ballet dancers are indeed capable of lighting up a phrase of African dance when invited, combining outrageous, loose-torsoed phrases with controlled, epic battements. The men fared rather less well as warriors; there seemed to be only so much they could do with thrusting fists and stamping; perhaps the looming threat of real war sapped this section's basic natural appeal.

"Dougla,"Geoffrey Holder's showcase (Holder is credited with choreography, costumes and music, that's all) has not aged a bit since its premiere in 1974. An exercise in sheer style and attitude, it is loosely arranged around a couple's wedding -- a good excuse for some old-fashioned pageantry and ritual. To a percussion-based score with an underlying bass drum heartbeat, lines of women and men both clad in voluminous white skirts and red pom-pommed cock's combs strutted across the stage, flicking their heads to give us a royal glare, or wagging their fingers. Even the curtain call was programmed down to the robotic clapping of the cast, who shimmied their heads while bowing. Though the choreography tended toward the rhythmic stride or dramatic gesture, "Dougla" could easily be seen on a Broadway stage, and would no doubt please any crowd that happened in.

Robert Garland's "Return," to tunes by James Brown and Aretha, among others, was the most choreographically satisfying piece of the evening, with ballet teaming up with funk. The music called for sections of strutting funkiness (excuse me while I grope for funk terminology), but it was surprising how rhythmically complex some of the ballet sections were. And how initially strange it was to watch basic, conservative ballet steps done to a repeated howl of "baby, baby," yet which seemed perfectly okay the second time around. Paunika Jones and Donald Williams stood out for their excellent funk and ballet techniques and their generous senses of humor. In "Return," Garland succeeded in blending theatrical, funny touches with formally sound, meaty choreography, and the fine dancers -- and hence, the audience -- seemed to find a little extra merit in this combination.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home