DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM TRIBUTE TO BLACK BALLERINAS
April 14, 2016
Dance Theatre of Harlem presented a program by ladies, Elena Kunikova, Helen Pickett, and Dianne McIntyre, for ladies, pausing for an understated Black Ballerina Magic: A Tribute, and then closing the evening with Coming Together, choreographed by Nacho Duato, set to the music of Frederic Rzewski. While the first three dances are distinctly feminine and soulful, the final work with its polished ensemble is strikingly impersonal and masculine. Duato’s piece includes spoken text written by Sam Melville. If you hadn’t known that Melville wrote while incarcerated at Attica Prison a year before he was killed in a riot, you might think the text described the current state of DTH.
“I am in excellent physical and emotional health,” writes Melville - ditto for DTH. Later he writes, “…I can act with clarity and meaning.” Couldn’t this be the words of DTH Artistic Director Virginia Johnson? When Virginia Johnson joined DTH in 1969, the founders Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook had a mission to prove that skin color does not determine the ability to dance ballet. Mission accomplished. When Johnson returned to take the helm of DTH, she had to deal with its debt, and low moral. But now, DTH offers a company that is arguably as technically proficient as Alvin Ailey American Dance Company and as handsome, with a leader proud to be a black, accomplished artist with a sure vision.
Black Ballerina Magic: A Tribute offered no hoopla, beyond raising the curtain on a stage filled with elegant dancers in street-clothes. Johnson announced the names of the dancers, one row at a time at which point they regally departed, and another line stepped forward to enthusiastic applause. The last two dancers on stage were Raven Wilkinson, the first African American ballerina permitted to join a ballet company, the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, under the condition that she paint her face. Then came Carmen de Lavallade whose career still flourishes as an actress and dancer. she danced with the Metropolitan Opera and American Ballet Theater, choreographed for the DTH, Philadanco, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and productions at the Metropolitan Opera.
All the choreography for DTH might not be memorable but the overall evening was memorable for its grace, risk-taking, and prowess.The program opened with the appropriately named Divertimento choreographed by Kunikova, set to Glinka’s “Divertimento Brilliante” and costumed with tutus and tunics. Sweet and flirtatious, this dance features 3 couples. Just as a sweet, with more ardor followed When Love, a duet by Pickett set to the music of Philip Glass with partnering so seamless, that the two seem inseparable.
McIntyre made her first dance to be performed on point with her ballet for three women, Change which premiered on February 2, 2016. Performed by Alison Stroming, Chyrstyn Fentroy, and Ingrid Silva, this piece had a wildness the other dances lacked. Eli Fountain wrote the music, drawing on his percussion background mixing in rather oddly, the Spelman College Glee Club. A veteran choreographer of stage, screen, and Broadway, McIntyre showed what is necessary to make a change - drop your burdens, catch people off guard and believe in yourself
EYE NO THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers