DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM
April 29, 2017
There was a buzz in the air at Dance Theatre of Harlem’s performance Friday night: an audience that clearly loves DTH and is willing to come out. The program offered three works, all relatively recent if not all contemporary.
Robert Garland’s “Brahams Variations” began with DTH ballerina Chyrstyn Fentroy and Davon Doane onstage, clad in a short yellow tutu and simple but princely jacket with sparkles by Pamela Allen-Cummings. They mirrored each other as they executed small, intricate footwork with a very regal bearing, in a neoclassical tribute to Louis the XIV. References to court dances were woven into the clean, technically demanding choreography, beautifully and confidently danced by the leading couple. Fentroy’s lovely carriage and line as she hovered over the tricky choreography with grace and authority, and Davon’s solo with a series of brise voles (consecutive beating of the feet in the air, landing on one foot, then the other) were crisp and impressively light.
When three other couples later join them, sometimes in duets or trios, some of the dancers seemed less confident, with strained smiles that eventually settled into well-executed but not transcendent choreography. Garland’s surprise endings for each pas de deux gave the piece its own flair, but overall the work seemed to reveal a slight discomfort with this riff on courtly neoclassical style.
References to the Sun King continued, with Dylan Thomas performing Jose Limon’s solo to Bach’s “Chaconne” (1942), a dance with Spanish/Peruvian origins favored by Louis XIV. Thomas brought a focus and integrity to this historical revival that gave it the right kind of gravitas. Limon’s highly dramatic style and choreography can sometimes seem overwrought, but Dylan did not tip the scale. His bearing and introspection paid proper homage to Limon’s legacy.
Francesca Harper’s “System” (2016) was more than just a system, it had an air of mystery, an underlying fire, and perennial feeling of doom, all continuously cycling without ever finding a permanent resolution. Dancers line up, clump together, looking up at the beam of light shining down through the dark (designed by Nick Hung, with black and glittery costumes by Elias Gurrola), then chainee (fast consecutive turns) or break out into a run across the stage or fiercely technical passages to John Adams’ String Quartet No. 1. Some of these cohere, others seem unrelated to what has come before. Haper’s critique of systemic and oppressive political structures (as she noted in the program) is less visible than the angst and uncertainty they can cause, and the community she hopes will challenge them.
The evening closed with Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Vessels (2014), a work that shows the DTH dancers at their best (with costumes by George Hudacko and lighting by Clifton Taylor). The music by Ezio Bosso is less memorable than the skill and clarity of the choreography. And the anchor of the mysterious central pas de deux gave the work a depth that seemed to speak to them, and us.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson