Dance Theatre of Harlem at City Center Dance Festival Review
April 8, 2022 | New York City Center – New York, NY, USA
Dance Theatre of Harlem is the most powerful dance company I have seen in ages. Not only in terms of technique but in the way the company moves and breathes as an ensemble. Each dancer moves with such intention, almost clairvoyant in their focus, which as a unit creates the Black ballet company that is a force to be reckoned with.
This week’s run for the company at City Center is a part of the theater’s spring 2022 Dance Festival. In a two-week span, Dance Theatre of Harlem shared the stage with other standout New York City staple companies including Paul Taylor Dance Company, Ballet Hispánico, and Martha Graham Dance Company.
Dance Theatre of Harlem at City Center Dance Festival left a lasting impression on their audience.
Following the gala program which occurred Tuesday, April 5 to select audiences, Friday evening was the New York opening for the company following their multi-city tour and included two New York premieres: Claudia Schrieier’s Passage and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Balamouk.
However, the program opened with a lively ballet by resident choreographer Robert Garland called Higher Ground. With a soundtrack by Steve Wonder, the piece was spiritually moving, emotionally intense, fun, and light-hearted… all at the same time.
The six dancers moved expressively and in unison, with even their shoulder blades articulating down their spine in sync as they faced their backs to the audience. Dancers moved in and out of ensemble phrases and broke out into occasional duets and solos.
Anthony Santos stood out with particularly brilliant bravado and clean technique and he floated through an impressive sequence of jumps and turns.
Amanda Smith struck an emotional cord with the audience with a very expressive solo where she danced about with sorrow while the other five dancers laughed and mingled with each other. At the end of Smith’s solo, the other five dancers re-entered the stage holding cell phones and pulled Smith into their line to take a selfie as her sorrowful expression melted into a smile.
Steve Wonder’s staple song “Higher Ground” concluded the ballet where the ensemble broke free of classical form to dance in revelry. Smith particularly was living her best life on stage – but how could you not be rocking out to “Higher Ground”?
Schreier’s Passage began and took the audience into a world with movement that was inhuman: not otherworldly or animalistic, but at times almost divine.
The ballet began with three women lifted on top of the shoulders of three men each, emerging from the back of the stage from the darkness.
Passage was a choreographic dessert that included gravity-defying and spine-chilling lifts for all dancers on the stage and the rapid movement flowed out of the dancers’ limbs with a momentum of a flooding creek. If you blinked, you’d miss it.
The moments where Schreier chose stillness against the tumultuous music of the live classical octet ensemble took the audience’s breath away.
If every single dancer on stage was a diamond, then Smith perhaps shone the brightest as your eye couldn’t help but flit to her as unique energy radiated from even the slightest movement she made.
Derek Brockington and Santos were featured as they broke out into solo roles. Brockington stood with his mile-long limbs stretched out imposingly over Santos in a mid-backfall. To me, their duet – including impressive lifts – conveyed a man-on-man conflict as the stage lights continued to become progressively lighter.
A simple bourrée sequence left a spine-chilling impression and the women fell back into their partner’s arms as they were dragged backward as if falling through a wind tunnel.
The piece ended climatically as Brockington lifted Santos into a single light and a blackout swiftly followed (with much applause and many bouquets of lilies).
The program concluded with the dynamic, colorful, and percussive Balamouk with music performed by The Klezmatics. Ingrid Silva stood out as a soloist and her presence, energy, and performance could be likened to a goddess. Silva was lifted up by a group of five men and carried around the stage as her gorgeous limbs and perfect lines were showcased around the stage. She led the rest of the cast in dance with soul, intense dedication, and a lively, rare spark of joie de vivre that truly trademarks Dance Theatre of Harlem.
The company is concluding its run at City Center on Sunday, April 10.
Featured Photo for this Dance Theatre of Harlem at City Center Dance Festival review of Company Artist Anthony Santos in Robert Garland’s Higher Ground. Photo by Theik Smith.
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