Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Repertory is said to build audiences and develop dancers. With four programs during its two weeks here and usually two casts per ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem is Washington, D.C.'s only visiting or resident dance company that still has an extended and continuous repertory season. That made it feel like the good old days.
Unlike in those days, DTH hasn't danced much Balanchine in a while. This is being rectified. In the opening program's Serenade, ensembles straggled and there was insufficient attack. (And the women wore tutus with see-through skirts instead of Karinska's evocative originals.) On the second bill, the pace kept stalling in The Prodigal Son; even Duncan Cooper's impatience as the Prodigal came in starts and stops. At last, Concerto Barocco, on program three, was coherent.
Artistic director Arthur Mitchell's public remarks make it clear he knows that his dancers have a way to go in Balanchine, and he's called in Suzanne Farrell to coach. Program four's Pas de Dix, derived from the Raymonda staging by Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova a half-century ago, was set for DTH by Frederic Franklin. The company gave this divertissement a lush touch to distinguish its nineteenth-century Petipa origins from the rigorousness of full Balanchine.
These dancers are adept at drama. In Agnes de Mille's Fall River Legend, they projected a small town's sense of community with a tragic chorus's resonance. Yet they didn't breathe life into Kenneth MacMillan's Las Hermanas. MacMillan must have set out to do an Antony Tudor "psychological" ballet, but the result isn't even as good as a de Mille. Neither MacMillan nor de Mille had Tudor's skill in using suppressed movement to reveal temperament. Both, though, copied his way with telltale motions such as the thigh grind that labels characters as sexually frustrated. While de Mille incorporated such expressions into solid characterizations, MacMillan supplied little else than the label. Virginia Johnson, poignant as the Accused in Fall River Legend, ought to have tried the crucial role of the mother (which was undercast) in Las Hermanas.
Johnson as Dreamer in Acid Dreams and Nightmares, and strong Tai Jimenez as Her Dream Self, infused sensuality and a sense of danger into MH soloist Robert Garland's second ballet for the company. Overly ambitious in trying to give form to chaotic visions, build expressive movement with academic steps, and engage Harry Partch's elusive music, Dreams succeeds visually. The choreographer and his designers (lighting by Kevin Meek, costumes by Pamela Allen-Cummings, set by Maurice Flagg) made this ballet as intensely colorful and climactic as a 3-D movie. Garland's first ballet, The Joplin Dances, isn't ambitious in form, but still delights with its lilt and sentiments.
That DTH dances best when working directly with a choreographer was even more apparent in Alonzo King's pieces than in Garland's. King, ostensibly deconstructing movement from diverse sources, restructures it in anatomically, kinetically satisfying ways while hinting at all sorts of meanings. His new Ground uses more balletic, fewer African ingredients than its forerunner, Signs and Wonders, and pessimism is implied in male-female relations. The two works, though, could be combined like the daylight (Signs) and nighttime (Ground) acts of a romantic ballet. King's ample movement vocabulary is not arbitrarily diverse; his dynamic alternations consist of more than stark contrasts. Among choreographers trying to extend neoclassicism into a higher energy range, King has resisted making merely hyperactive ballets.
This repertory season developed DTH's dancers, but didn't build a big audience. Next year, the company returns for one week only.
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|Title Annotation:||Opera House, Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.|
|Article Type:||Dance Review|
|Date:||Oct 1, 1996|
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