BWW Review: DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM Revives “Dougla”, Holder's Incandescent Masterpiece
On April 7th 2016 at New York City Center, Dance Theatre of Harlem ably performed an eclectic quadruple bill in which the closer, the late Geoffrey Holder's "Dougla", was far and away the best of the evening's offerings. Dougla is the term in Trinidad, Holder's birthplace, for people of mixed Indian/South Asian and African descent. The work was choreographed in 1974 and revived for this season by Holder's widow, Carmen de Lavallade, and their son, Leo Holder, with the help of several former DTH members. (Oddly, de Lavallade was not credited on the playbill, but an insert did credit her.) The standing room only audience roared with approval from the moment the curtain rose to reveal the entire company in stunning costumes designed by Holder. The shouts of approval and repeated ovations continued right through the ingenious bows, during which the live ensemble in the orchestra pit under the baton of David LaMarche continued to fill the hall with the compellingly percussive score by Holder and Tania León. The Holder family dedicated the revival to modern dancer, teacher, choreographer, director, and writer Donald McKayle who died on April 7th 2018 at the age of 87.
The other pieces on the roster were enjoyable but less than stellar. Balanchine's iconic "Valse Fantasie" to the music of Mikhal Glinka drew some appreciative applause for the solos, but didn't measure up to performances I've seen of this ballet by the New York City Ballet. Spacing was at times uneven and the dancers seemed to be simply going through the motions with not much passion or stage presence.
Also lacking in passion was Christopher Wheeldon's "This Bitter Earth", in spite of the very passionate voiceover lyrics by Clyde Otis sung by Dinah Washington. Stephanie Rae Williams and Choong Hoon Lee danced with precision and authority, yet seemed not to know what the piece was meant to convey.
However, Derrrell Grand Moultrie's "Harlem on My Mind" to a musical mélange by Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis and others was definitely satisfying. Evoking the spirit of Harlem, the work shows off the dancers' considerable jazz skills and saucy spirit. In particular, Anthony Santos in the "Harlem's Finest" solo was nothing short of superb.
Kudos to Virginia Johnson, DTH Artistic Director, for keeping alive the company founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell and Karl Shook shortly after the assassination of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A program note explains that Mitchell, a former New York City Ballet principal, was "inspired to start a school that would offer children - especially those in Harlem, the community in which he was born - the opportunity to learn about dance and the allied arts." DTH now encompasses a performing Ensemble, a leading arts education center, and Dancing Through Barriers®, a national and international education and community outreach program. Take any chance you can get to see this gem of a company perform!
Photo by Joseph Rodman