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Flash Review 2, 9-13:
DTH Takes Control
From Wham-Bam Dancing to Tense Entanglements
By Terry Hollis
Copyright 2000 Terry Hollis
When it works, it works.
Ballet has always had a funny way of harmonizing the elements of
theater the way nothing else can. Maybe it's geometry, or synergy,
or just plain old accomplishment but a well thought-out piece of
work can demand and extract exactly what it wants out of the space
and play with it until the piece is over. So cool to watch.... Dance
Theatre of Harlem opened the third program of its City Center season
last night with a mixed bill that went from wham-bam dancing to
tense entanglements to costume drama. While every piece may not
have lived up to itself, we were in the hands of some of the most
capable performers around and they carved and molded the night just
the way they wanted. By the time the final tableau of John Taras's
"Firebird" was in place, you realized that these dancers took control
of the whole evening.
"Twist," the first work
of the night, definitely demanded your attention from the second
the curtain went up. The bright pastel costumes that the dancers
(barely) wore and the bright colored square of light that sat asymmetrically
at the rear of the stage set this up as a visual experience (emphasis
on visual). Dwight Rhoden keeps the dancers in constant motion,
especially in the first section, where the lines of movement overlap
and intersect each other so much that the effect is ultimately like
a human kaleidoscope. Within this Mr. Rhoden has given the women
quick foot work that works around and through the men. At times
they attached themselves to their partners in strange geometric
shapes and stopped in the middle of a phrase, only to be lowered
to the floor or swung by their feet. The men are either frames for
their women with an occasional thrust of the chest or high battement
or dance in unison with each other (those passages usually concentrating
on sticking a landing).The score, by Antonio Carlos Scott, droned
on a little too much and worked against the energy the company poured
into the work. There seemed to be some discrepancies among the men
that a few more rehearsals might fix, and the constantly changing
back drop provided a little sensory overload that kept the piece
from coming together. I would love to see the work on a larger stage
to get some distance from the onslaught of color and activity. Maybe
then the spectacular dancing would help form the picture and not
compete with it.
The balcony pas de deux
from "Romeo and Juliet" has always been a stars vehicle. My companion
mentioned having seen Nureyev and Fonteyn perform it in the Sixties,
and the abandon they brought to the stage. As performed by Bethania
Gomes and Duncan Cooper, the couple read more as brother and sister
than consumed young lovers. This particular version (choreographed
by Gabriella Taub-Darvash) takes place on the balcony and not under
it, which places the duo on some pretty exalted ground. Mr. Cooper
makes a very gallant Romeo. He doesn't dance him as the brash young
show-off we are used to seeing, but is easy-going and secure. Ms.
Gomes' s Juliet lacks a little in the passion department, but she
does have the girl-next-door thing down and long legs that seem
to go from weightless to tempered steel.
As far as controlling
the space is concerned, nothing accomplished this as well as Michael
Smuin's "Medea." The ballet is a sparse retelling of the story of
Medea, who took the lives of her two children as revenge against
an unfaithful husband. Lenore Pavlakos as Medea is a consummate
ice queen whose rage is never too far from the surface. Mark Burns
and Kevin Thomas are perfectly matched as her playfully virtuosic
sons, who pay the price for their father's indiscretions. As Creusa,
the "other woman," Caroline Rocher has a great time diverting Donald
Williams's attention. Williams, a DTH principal dancer since 1983,
stands at the moral center of the piece as his ideals unravel one
by one -- first forsaking his sons and then betraying his queen.
Using minimal elements to maximum effect, to Samuel Barber's "Medea,"
Mr. Smuin creates cuts in time and space that constantly make the
story seem fragmented. The curtain falls between each short section
so you catch each lesson as it happens, giving the whole thing the
feeling of a serial. At one point the stage is split by light as
Medea is with her sons and Jason is mourning his murdered mistress;
the sense of separation is not in feet but miles. After Medea commits
the final heinous act, she stands there in silence and smiles at
the audience; this one moment tells you everything you need to know
about the character and the piece.
So, I forget: Does everyone
love "Firebird" or do they hate it? I hadn't seen this production
in at least ten years and until last night I thought I was sick
of it, but it's a good piece of candy to close out the night. The
beautiful painted scrims that layer to form the background and the
extravagant costumes by Geoffrey Holder pull you into this fantasy
world where Kellye Saunders presides as the Firebird. Mr. Cooper
as the Young Man and Leanne Codrington as the Princess are perfect
in their roles, at home and at odds in the same step. As choreographed
by Taras, to the Stravinsky score, the story is condensed into small
dance passages that lead up to the young man's deliverance from
those Creatures of Evil. Ms. Saunders is a restless, driven Firebird.
With pointe work like a hummingbird and an incredibly sharp first
solo she steps right into Stephanie Dabney's Capezios. At least
now I know I love it....
The company will be controlling
the City Center stage through September 17.
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