Review: Dance Theatre of Harlem Continues Its Legacy
By Mercedes Vizcaino, Contributing Writer, April 24, 2017
Founded in 1969 and inspired by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the Dance Theatre of Harlem was established as a beacon of hope for young people. Through training in classical art form, instilling discipline and focus, a challenged community could be transformed, according to its founders, Arthur Mitchell and the late Karel Shook.
These pioneers of multicultural dance were committed to bringing new opportunities to the youth in Harlem. Arthur Mitchell became the first African-American man to become a principal dancer with a major U.S. ballet company: The New York City Ballet. The Dance Theatre of Harlem provides world-class training in ballet and diverse dance disciplines.
To celebrate their annual New York City engagement, the Dance Theatre of Harlem pulled out all the stops with the company’s 6th Annual Vision Gala on April 19, 2017. Grammy-winning recording artist, India Arie performed “High Above” with help from the talented ballet students of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. The night was replete with a fusion of modern ballet techniques, homage to the late dance advocate and champion fundraiser, Alex J. Dubé, and poignant and inspirational speeches by artistic director Virginia Johnson and ABC Network personalities.
To kick off the evening’s festivities, the performance began with Equilibrium (Brotherhood), a performance dedicated to the common trials that arise with AIDS and the exploration of male bonding through the dancers’ interpretation of physicality, athleticism and grace, and how these attributes can establish stability in one’s life. Next was their rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (Act III Pas de Deux). The level of passion demonstrated by the extraordinary dancers commanded your attention. The detailed costumes and lighting were instrumental in setting the mood for this timeless story. Following Swan Lake, was Chaconne, a collaboration between the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Limón Company Members. A chaconne is a form of bawdy dance derived from the Spanish colony in Peru in the 16th Century. Once banned by the Spanish court and resurrected by Louis XIV, the king danced chaconnes in his own court, as it encapsulates the illuminating universal qualities of humanity, humility and grace.
Return, the final and most memorable work, combined the toe-tapping and electrifying music of the most iconic rhythm-and-blues superstars: James Brown and Aretha Franklin with ballet. The Dance Theatre of Harlem’s resident choreographer, Robert Garland calls the ballet style “post-modern urban neoclassicism.” And, the company succeeded in seamlessly blending modern ballet to the backdrop of soulful songs. The dancers performed “Baby, Baby, Baby”, “I Got The Feelin” and “Call Me” with unbridled grace and fervor impelling the audience to sing and clap along.
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The Dance Theatre of Harlem at New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, on April 19-22, 2017. Virginia Johnson, Artistic Director; Arthur Mitchell, Founder / Artistic Director Emeritus.
Equilibrium (Brotherhood); choreography by Darrell Grand Moultrie; music by Kenji Bunch; costumes by Eric Winterling; lighting by William Cotton. Dancers: Dylan Santos, Jorge Andrés Villarini, Jordan Kindell.
Swan Lake (Act III Pas de Deux); music: Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky; staging by Anna-Marie Holmes after Marius Petipa and Nicholas Sergeyev; costumes, courtesy of Pittsburgh Ballet Theater; lighting by Peter D. Leonard. Dancers: Entrée & Adagio: Alison Stroming and Da’Von Doane; variations & coda: Ingrid Silva and Francis Lawrence.
Pièce D’Occasion: High Above; choreography by Robert Garland; music by Tim Rosser and Charlie Sohne; performed by India Aire and Dance Theatre of Harlem School.
Chaconne; choreography by José Limón; music by Johann Sebastian Bach; lighting design by William Cotton; Dance Theatre of Harlem members: Dylan Santos, Stephanie Rae Williams, Jorge Andrés Villarini; José Limón Company members: Logan Frances Kruger, Ross Katen.
Return; choreography by Robert Garland; music by James Brown, Alfred Ellis, Aretha Franklin, Carolyn Franklin; costume design and execution by Pamela Allen-Cummings; lighting by Roma Flowers. “Mother Popcorn” dancers: Chyrstyn Fentroy, Stephanie Rae Williams, Alison Stroming, Lilit Hogtanian, Alicia Mae Holloway, Cristel Alvarado, Francis Lawrence, Choong Hoon, Lee, Dylan Santos, Sanford Placide, Jordan Kindell, Nicholas Rose; “Baby, Baby, Baby” dancers: Stephanie Rae Williams, Choong Hoon Lee, Alison Stroming, Dylan Santos, Cristel Alvarado, Nicholas Rose; “I Got The Feelin’” dancers: Chyrstyn Fentroy, Jordan Kindell, Nicholas Rose, Alicia Mae Holloway, Sanford Placide, Lilit Hogtanian; “Call Me” dancers: Alison Stroming, Dylan Santos; “Superbad” dancers: Francis Lawrence and the Company.
Cover: Chyrstyn Fentroy in ‘Return;’ photo: Rachel Neville.