Dance Theatre of Harlem Review: Balanchine, McIntyre, Schreier, Holder May 28, 2019 | Kennedy Center – Washington, D.C.
The Kennedy Center closes out its 2018-2019 Ballet Season with their Ballet Across America series featuring the internationally recognized Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) and Miami City Ballet, both companies directed by women – Virginia Johnson and Lourdes Lopez, respectively.
Opening night belongs to DTH in a mixed program curated by Ms. Johnson that showcases just how diverse the New York based company is. Whether it is because of celebrating the company’s 50th anniversary, returning to their Artistic Director’s home town, or in their dedication of this show to the company’s founder, Arthur Mitchell, the dancers are gleaming with a pulsating energy.
That said, the evening begins with probably the most unimpressive dancing of the program. There is always a risk taken when a company that doesn’t regularly study the nuances of George Balanchine’s style performs one of his ballets; in order to manifest the appropriate quality, expressiveness can at times be misconstrued into exaggerated movements. Especially guilty of this is Crystal Serrano, the principal female, whose lines seem uncomfortably forced.
Valse Fantaisie may be one of the most luxuriously sweeping Balanchine ballets (thanks to inspiration from Mikail Glinka’s music) and her dancing seems just a bit rigid. Also disappointing is her partner Dylan Santos‘ lackluster allegro; for a role best fit for a dancer whose forte is suspension both on demi-pointe and en l’air, Santos often misses the musical mark landing from his jumps a hair too early.
What keeps the piece fresh and spirited are the other four ladies – Alicia Mae Holloway, Daphne Lee, Amanda Smith, and Alexandra Hutchinson. Although off to an unsynchronized rough start, they quickly allow themselves to become ones with the music and enjoy the dance; their quick cannons are precise and their bodies move fluidly and fully.
After a short pause, we are witness to Dianne McIntyre’s 2016 “Women Who Move Us” commission. Change is a piece which very much embodies how dance speaks. The cast of three women – Lindsey Croop, Ingrid Silva, and Stephanie RaeWilliams – portray female figures who “could be called warriors for change” (program notes).
Organized in three movements with music both traditional and original, Change is a ballet that stays true to its title both literally and figuratively. As the women work their way through a more pensive, lyrical beginning to a powerful, fierce ending, their appearance also transforms from being softly draped in translucent black fabric to baring their strength in mosaic, earth-tone short unitards (poetically, the unitards are patches of former DTH dancers’ tights).
All three are beautiful forces to be reckoned with, but it is Ms. Croop who is especially poignant with her arms full of breath, her legs eternally reaching, and her face skillfully expressive. One aspect is (perhaps intentionally) discombobulating, and that is the incorporation of the dancers’ vocals in the second movement. Although not inappropriate due to the war-like nature of the music and choreography, it seems unnecessary.
A 2019 Virginia Arts Festival commission that premiered just earlier this month, Passage is a new work by Claudia Schreier. In partnership with composer Jessie Montgomery, Passage consists of a duet of men who are the focus of a large group in a ballet intended “to acknowledge the resolve of the human spirit,” according to the choreographer. Despite my inability to draw this message out of the piece (perhaps another viewing would be helpful), it is one that showcases the dancers well.
Anthony Santos and Derek Brockington as the principal pair are stunning in their physicality and technical abilities, and the ensemble adeptly executes the challenging partnering and weaving patterns. The work tends on the side of lengthy and lacks some originality, both which null the sensation of wanting to see more; but overall it is a visually satisfying work.
Closing out the program is a beloved DTH staple, Geoffrey Holder’s Dougla. This 1974 piece tells the story of a Caribbean wedding ceremony of dougla, Trinidad people who are of mixed Indian/South Asian and African descent. Holder draws on the culture of his native land to invite the audience into a tribal world where vibrant color and the ever so contagious upbeat rhythm of the percussion move everyone to want to join in the dance.
Although speckled with soloists, Dougla by nature and by nurture is about being one in a group of many where controlled abandon combined within the confines of ritual create an atmosphere where all can feel free.
Dance Theatre of Harlem performs this program again at 7:30pm on Wednesday and Thursday at The Kennedy Center . On the evening of May 31, they perform in a Shared Celebration with Miami City Ballet.
Cherilyn's lifelong passion for ballet has opened the door to the next chapter of her journey. Her strong foundation includes training at the School of American Ballet, being a featured dancer with Hartford Ballet and Carolina Ballet, and being co-director/owner of City Ballet Raleigh. She was granted the Affiliate Teacher Award after successfully completing the ABT National Training Curriculum®. A professional career in the industry along with extensive global travel provide her with a unique set of experiences to draw upon as a journalist and audience member. Cherilyn is excited to be sharing her insight about ballet around the world.