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Review 1, 7-15: Lighten up!
Dance Theatre of Harlem Strains at Classical, Shines for Robbins
By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2003 Gus Solomons jr
NEW YORK -- When will
Arthur Mitchell realize that classical ballet is not what his company
Dance Theatre of Harlem does best? Program B of DTH's run in the
Lincoln Center Festival at the New York State Theater opened with
George Balanchine's "Serenade," a ballet created in 1934 and his
first in the U.S. But all that this technically tentative, dynamically
aggressive performance proved was that Balanchine's choreographic
brilliance outshone even a mediocre rendition of his ballet.
The opening tableau
always elicits a gasp and often, applause: 18 women in diaphanous
blue skirts, standing with their right hands thrust diagonally upward.
The ballet unfolds to Tchaikovsky's music, always surprisingly.
From intricate abstract patterning for the women it moves to a lyrical
love duet, then a dream fantasy, then a visually startling finale,
in which the lead woman is held aloft by three men, proceeding slowly
along a diagonal beam of light from upstage right. The principals
in this performance, Lenore Pavlakos, Akua Parker, Leanne Codrington,
Kip Sturm, and James Washington, individually had fine moments,
but the whole failed to satisfy.
Sir Frederick Ashton's
"Thais," a duet set to Jules Massenet's familiar melody is all floating
lifts and fluid transitions. Done here by muscular Duncan Cooper
and delicate Melissa Morrissey, it needed greater dynamic finesse
than these two young dancers could give it, but again, its ethereal
choreographic beauty transcended. One vociferous audience member
found it "Un-believable!"
What's wrong with the
training and coaching of these strong, attractive dancers? In the
classical works they dance mostly as if they're afraid of making
a mistake. 21st-century classical ballet companies can't get away
with tentative double pirouettes on point and brittle arms. These
are strong, lithe, potentially wonderful dancers, but somehow they
rarely reach their technical or expressive potentials in the classical
repertoire. Strain replaces the magical effortlessness the work
demands. They don't enjoy themselves, and neither do we.
By contrast, Robert
Garland's "New Bach" and Jerome Robbins's "Fancy Free" eloquently
show the company's strengths. Garland sets his ten dancers loose,
strutting with attitude in shiny, sheer, black costumes by Pamela
Allen-Cummings. He inserts funky breaks: pelvic twists, and shoulder
shimmies, as little asides into his ballet vocabulary. Tai Jimenez
radiates charm, tipping seductively "en pointe" and the usually
dutiful Sturm lets go in flashy double air turns and spacious leaps.
The opening movement,
"Allegro Moderato" of Bach's Violin Concerto in A minor gets our
attention: Jimenez backed by four men, then Sturm and four women
tickle us with relentless buoyancy, highlighted by Roma Flowers's
playful lighting. Self-assured strutting along diagonal paths animates
the "Andante" section, and the bright and flashy finale "Allegro
Assai" with its duets and snappy, quick-footed kinetic dialogue
sweeps us to a happy finish. The four agile guys are Mark Burns,
Antonio Douthit, Preston Dugger, and Claudio Sandoval, the high-stepping
ladies, Paunika Jones, Akua Parker, Ebony Haswell, and Amy Johnson.
As the three sailors
in "Fancy Free" Dugger, Ikolo Griffin, and Donald Williams, all
gifted dance-actors, totally convinced us of their carefree braggadocio,
looking for mischievous fun. Kellye A. Saunders and Caroline Rocher
were the flirtatious foils for whose affections the guys compete
by doing virtuosic solos: Dugger, a show-off young pup; Griffin,
a brash risk-taker; and Williams, the been-around-the-block smoothie.
After their brawling has scared off the two potential dates, Leanne
Codrington came along to set off their testosterone alarms again.
This wonderful staging
by Judith Fugate made more dramatic sense than either the American
Ballet Theatre or the New York City Ballet versions, because the
cast believed the miming horseplay and did it with unselfconscious
conviction. They danced with humor, authority, and technical aplomb,
abetted by Oliver Smith's setting: a bar and street outside, Kermit
Love's forties' costumes and hairdos, and Les Dickens's recreation
of Ronald Bates's original lighting. Joseph E. Fields and Derrick
Inouye conducted the evening's live music.
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