Traditional Ballet Opener
In tutus and tights, the buoyant and smiling Dance Theatre of Harlem troupe started the evening with the most classic of ballet moves set to Brahms. (Soloists: Chyrstyn Fentroy and Da’Von Doane; Ensemble: Lindsey Croop; Stephanie Rae Williams; Alician Mae Holloway; Alison Stroming; Dylan Santos; Choong Hoon Lee; Sanford Placide and Jordan Kindell). This was as traditional as ballet choreography gets (Choreography: Robert Garland), feeding that part of the crowd that MUST get its on point twirls, but also firmly and quickly establishing the entire troupe’s ballet bona fides.
Da’Von Doane seemed to stand out in this first piece, and throughout the evening, with his buoyant smile, flawless moves executed with ease, and verve.
After the first intermission “System”, a new work choreographed by Francesca Harper, was performed to a throbbing score by John Adams. Chicago Sinfonietta’s string quartet wasprominently in view during the final movement, replacing the canned music prior. They played with such evident force and effort to make the insistent score happen, that their physical presence seemed like an added audio exclamation mark.
The dancers (Stephanie Rae Williams, Ingrid Silva, Chrystyn Fentroy, Da’Von Doane, Choong Hoon Lee, Dylan Santos, Jordan Kindell, Jorge Andres Villarini) were buffeted by the pounding score. The scenes we imagined them witnessing, seemed to alternately draw them in to gapers’ gawk and then scurry back into clinging gaggles. Their bodies said shock at times, fear at others. The choreography also telegraphed a message of difficult journey. We knew all too well what spectacles were the focus of the dancers’ movements. Their names were never spoken, and their persons were never seen, yet it was difficult not to imagine we were all as close as arm’s reach of Eric Garland, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the sad list of so many, many more whose fates the choreography evoked.
With its tough strong message, it took even a stronger brew to make the show go on with Choreographer Nacho Duato’s “Coming Together”, a piece premiered in 1991 and added to the Dance Theatre of Harlem repertoire in 2015. The music by Frederic Rzewski has an affect in the same planetary system as Adams score in the preceding “System”. This though is more up tempo, with toe shoes cast aside and running, streaking and jetes across the stage more the norm.
Set to this music is a repetition of an eight-sentence excerpt from a letter of an Attica Prisoner who was later killed in the prison riots there. You both hear the narration and you do not, because the dancers absolutely command the stage and your attention.
Note: Dance Theatre of Harlem's last Auditorium Theatre performance this season has concluded. However, dance and other entertainment events continue in Auditorium Theatre until May, 2017. For more information visit the Auditorium Theatre website.
Photos: "Brahms Variations"—Heiko DeWees; "System" and "Coming Together"—Rachel Neville