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Flash Review 2, 9-18:
DTH's Magical Diversity Tour
By Tamieca McCloud
Copyright 2000 Tamieca McCloud
When I was 'round about
eight years old, I saw Dance Theatre of Harlem perform "The Firebird"
on PBS. That image was so incredible that it inspired me to spend
the next six years of my life training to be a ballet dancer. I've
not seen it since, but to this day I think that it was the most
beautiful ballet performance, and definitely the best of "The Firebird,"
I've ever seen. The magic of DTH, however, is that it is a strong
ballet company, which is able to perform a diverse repertoire and
do it well.
On Friday, DTH performed
Program D of its season at City Center. The program took us on a
cultural journey -- including Balanchine's "Serenade," Native American-themed
"A Song For Dead Warriors" by Michael Smuin and Geoffrey Holder's
"Dougla," set in the West Indies.
I'm hesitant to admit
that "Serenade" was a bit of a disappointment. I'd think it was
the choreography, but I've seen it before and appreciated it more.
I'm hesitant to admit my disappointment because I once read an essay
(by a Black choreographer) that stated his belief that Black dancers
didn't have the right body type for ballet. Personally, I think
that DTH alone has gone well beyond busting apart that kind of ignorance.
What bothered me was the superficiality of the performance. Neither
their bodies, nor their technical abilities, had anything to do
with it. Friday's performance didn't go so far as to ruin "Serenade,"
by any means. It did, however, put me in a place where my mind constantly
drifted and kept snapping back -- thinking, "That was nice...oh,
it's not over yet."
During the intermission
(there was one after each piece), I began to worry about the rest
of the program. But as soon as "A Song For Dead Warriors" began,
my worries were most definitely forgotten. Opening with projected
images of past Native heroes and present Native oppression (and
depression); the tone was set for the story of a man's travels through
a life beginning in strength and honor, to the breaking of his spirit.
Mr. Smuin's choreography and its presentation were both strong and
respectful. The credits even list a Native American dance consultant
and an advisor, which I found impressive. Worth mentioning are the
performances by Duncan Cooper (damn that man is a beautiful jumper)
and Kellye A. Saunders. But it was the performance of the work as
a whole that left me nodding my head in appreciation.
"Dougla" -- now this
is what I consider a great example of the diversity of DTH. Gone
was the balletic movement, to be replaced by some serious hip rolling
and finger shaking. My companion, a friend of Trinidadian heritage,
was barely able to contain himself. If you'd come in at the start
of this dance, you would not have believed that the performance
opened with Balanchine. Not many companies can pull that off. Despite
their stoic expressions, the dancers obviously were feelin' this
piece. Said to be representative of "the ritual and ceremony of
a wedding between two 'Dougla' people," this dance captivated the
audience. Where 'A Song...' hit your heart and conscience, "Dougla"
made you want to be a part of the celebration. Definitely a good
ending for the evening.
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