BWW Reviews: Dance Theatre Of Harlem is Soul En Pointe
Last week, Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) presented a classic but eclectic program of four ballets at the Miller Outdoor Theatre. To my surprise, they gave me something I could feel. The performance reminded me that ballet can be fun, art should be communal and a coloratura soprano singing "Domine Deus, Rex caelestis" is just as electrifying as James Brown singing "Mother Popcorn."
To hold the attention of a packed house (and lawn) at Miller Outdoor Theatre, you go big or the audience goes home. The DTH went big. They had impeccable extensions, thrilling variations, and gravity defying lifts.
The audience reacted accordingly. When one company member finished performing an impressive succession of pirouettes, the crowd cheered like it was Game 7 of the World Series. I, for one, was quietly jealous. My spotting is so shoddy that I've never been able to piroutte without getting dizzy. And, if I tried to pull off a succession of pirouettes, I'd break my ankles.
But don't let my slavish attention to the crowd-pleasing movements fool you. The showiness was rooted in dexterity and artistry. More importantly, in addition to entertaining the hell out of thousands of Houstonians, the Dance Theatre of Harlem transformed the usually exclusionary language of ballet into a language of inclusion and community.
You can stop reading here. No, really, stop. Stop it. OK, if you're still reading, I'll just have to assume you want to see my notes on each ballet.
I was blown away by the choreography accompanying Francis Poulenc's "Domine Deus, Rex caelestis." Not only was the music breathtakingly beautfiul, but dancers Da'von Doane and Janelle Figgins were captivating. The lifts were smooth. The corps de ballet* was charged. And particularly in sync as well. Even as I sat on the hill surrounded by the nonsensical chatter of under-sixes and the smell of old fried fish, I appreciated the way Roma Flowers' colorful projections enhanced Robert Garland's choreograpy, which was complex but congrous. To me, his movement choices make the case that grace is not the opposite of strength. While all skilled dancers must possess strength and athleticism, Garland is not afraid to allow his dancers to appear athletic.
*Emiko Flanagan, Lindsey Croop, Alexandra Jacob, Ashley Jackson, Frederick Davis, Dustin James, Francis Lawrence and Dylan Santos
I am a fan of Bea Feitler's luminous costuming and the commited dancing in this piece. These were no ordinary leaps and extensions. The title of the peice is appropos. Each time a dancer extended her arm, I feared (and hoped) that she would, like a lark, take flight.
Graceful and romantic.
This luxurious piece made me think: Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? I conlcuded no. Too much of a good thing is an oxymoron. To me, this piece was the longest but, by far, the strongest.
When the company danced to "Mother Popcorn" by James Brown, those en pointe flutters become shimmies and ballet got its sexy back.
I was also impressed by the subtle call back to Poulenc in "Mother Popcorn." James Brown's screams are undeniably similar to the dramatic notes of a coloratura soprano. Compare Maria Callas' exqusite dramatic notes in "Vissi D'Arte" to James Brown's spine tingling scream in "Mother Popcorn" and tell me I'm wrong.
Dancing to Aretha Franklin's "Baby, Baby, Baby" was more than generous. Then the dancers separated into a soul train line. The audience was beside itself. So was I. You could say, if you were clever like me, that I and the audience got that feeling:
HOUSTON: If you missed Dance Theatre of Harlem performance at the Miller Outdoor Theatre, have no fear! The Miller Outdoor Theatre will present TWO GENTLEMAN OF VERONA as part of the Houston Shakespeare Festival on August 1, 3, 5, and 7 at 8:30 pm. Visit http://milleroutdoortheatre.com/ for more information.
BROOKLYN: You can go see The Dance Theatre of Harlem on July 31 at 7:30 pm for CELEBRATE BROOKLYN! The show will be at Prospect Park Bandshell. Performance is FREE. Doors open at 6:30pm.
The program at CELEBRATE BROOKLYN! will include Donald Byrd's Contested Space (2012), Robert Garland's Return (1999), and a sleek and evocative restaging of Frederic Franklin's 1984 masterpiece of classical rigor Lark Ascending by Keith Saunders, Kellye Saunders, and Virginia Johnson.
BROOKLYNITES can also see Dance Theatre of Harlem at the SUMMER 2014 STREET FESTIVAL on Saturday, August 9. The street festival will start at noon and end at 7 pm. It will be held at WEST 152ND STREET BETWEEN AMSTERDAM AND ST. NICHOLAS AVENUES. Performances are FREE! It features Dance Theatre of Harlem School Summer Intensive Students and Special Guest Artists.
Also: Special Appearance by the Dance Theatre of Harlem Company!
For more information, visit http://www.dancetheatreofharlem.org.