Dance Theater Harlem awes
Yvonne Delaney Mitchell | 4/19/2013, 9:59 a.m.
Who leaves you breathless? Who takes you on a magical ride of emotions ranging from sheer delight to teary-eyed melancholy to amazement and excitement, but never complacency? Who gives you that flirty smile, that intriguing glance, the full spectrum of emotions, all while flittingg across the stage, with feet hardly touching the ground? There's the technical precision, the lyrical rhythm and the sanguine bodies glistening with sweet sweat--the kind you want to reach out and touch; these bodies glide against the backdrop while your imagination runs wild with a story and interpretation of your own.
It's the resurrection of the new Dance Theatre of Harlem's (DTH) classical ballet troop. The troop bears the name proudly and does justice to the dream created by the masters themselves, Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, some five decades ago. DTH held its New York performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Hall, where opening night was all you could imagine it would be; it was straight from a ballet lover's dreams.
The evening began with the introductions of former prima ballerina and current Artistic Director Virginia Johnson and Executive Director Laveen Naidu. The presentation of the Karel Shook trophy was awarded to the Ford Foundation for its ongoing support that, along with the support of Bloomberg and RBC Capital Markets, made the DTH inaugural New York season possible.
Then, without further ado, the house lights went down, the stage darkened and after a long pause (as in Quaker tradition, where the people sit in moments of silence to collect their thoughts and quiet their souls), the most magnificent performance of the New York ballet season began. It is noteworthy to mention the cast members by name, because each dancer brings a unique style to his or her performance and possesses the ability to dance physically, mentally, artistically and spiritually in unison with the company as a whole. The dance artists who were performing were Michaela DePrince, Chyrstyn Fentroy, Jenelle Figgins, Lindsey Pitts, Gabrielle Salvatto, Ingrid Silva, Stephanie Rae Williams, Fredrick Davis, Da'Von Doane, Taurean Green, Jehbreal Jackson, Dustin James, Francis Lawrence, Anthony Savoy and Samuel Wilson.
The opening night program began with "Agon," featuring choreography by George Balanchine and music by Igor Stravinsky, and first premiered by DTH on June 27, 1971. "Agon" is the ancient Greek word for "contest." Mitchell, who is now artistic director emeritus, once danced the central pas de deux (a dance appearing with only a male and female dancer) of "Agon." Performing the part was an amazing accomplishment for a Black, male dancer back in 1957, and it still is today.
The piece, in true Balanchine style, is highly technical; the timing, the form and every detail of the dancer's body movement is done with exactness, concentration, awareness, focus and precision. Once all of the ingredients are there, the steps are executed with total abandonment, so that the dancers are listening only to the music and feeling the heart of the audience, which is altogether mind-blowing.
Next on the program was the equally challenging and oh-so-classical "Swan Lake." "Act III the Pas de Deux" was performed by DePrince and Wilson. What is so special about DTH is that yes, they hit the mark with their technique and ability to dance classical ballet, but it's what they add to it that makes them outstanding. While it is expected that they, as dancers, make every move seem effortless, even though each step is incredibly hard, DTH dancers never let the audience know. Instead, they manage to bat their eyes and express emotions across their brows to the point where you feel the story they are portraying, even if you don't know a lick about ballet.