Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) presented their annual New York City season April 19, 20 and 21 at New York City Center. The performances marked the sixth season since the company’s much anticipated return after a seven-year hiatus. This new re-configured DTH, under the artistic direction of former company principal dancer Virginia Johnson, continues to mature into a new and important dance voice, while staying true to its founding principles.Continue reading
The Fire Island Dance Festival held their 22nd annual fundraiser July 15 through 17, 2016. The three-day four-performance festival presented emerging and established choreographers and companies in a stunning outdoor setting framed by the Great South Bay. In the last few of years the festival has felt more like a traditional summer outdoor choreographers showcase. This year the well-curated and focused concert series returned to its roots offering 8 provocative, sensitive and thought-provoking works.
Many of the works revolved around the theme of love and relationship. Glenn Sims and Linda Celeste Sims opened the program with MATCH- The First Installment by Abdul Latif. The set, which resembled of an oversized two-tiered revolving “Lazy Susan”, provided a panoramic perspective of the top-tier duet. It also highlighted the artistic intensity of the two Ailey veterans and real life husband and wife. During the three sections the dance evolved from seated floor work to energetic, but cool jazz that framed the set. Dancers Eury German, Nik Owens, Jillian Roberts and Valentina Strokopytova assisted the couple on stage.
Lasting Embrace choreographed by Ballet Contemporaneo De Camaguey’s Associate Artistic Director Pedro Ruiz had a profound affect on the audience. The adagio demonstrated a good use of theme and development that created a movement based love letter. Armando Gomez Brydson and Jesus Arias Pagues danced the thoughtful and well-crafted duet with strong emotional and technical prowess. Masculine, yet tender the supported partnering switched between the two dancers establishing a feeling of equality and camaraderie.
Wendy Whelan performed the third duet First Fall with choreographer Brian Brooks. The work used momentum and shared body weight to develop a conversation with a distinct voice. Brooks’ designed a sophisticated work with visual innuendoes that clearly expressed his intent through subtlety and repetition than overt movement passages
Larry Keigwin’s fun romp Episodes was set to a lively version of Leonard Bernstein’s On The Town. Members of Keigwin + Company performed the sextet with a good sense of athleticism and solid theatricality. Dancers Kacie Boblitt, Brandon Cournay, Benjamin Freedman, Kile Hotchkiss, Emily Schoen and Jaclyn Walsh danced the upbeat work with the proper amount of verve and playfulness.
For Us by Madboots Dance, choreographed and performed by Jonathan Campbell and Austin Diaz became an immediate audience favorite. Choreographed in response to the Orlando Tragedy the work began with an eerily rendition of Judy Garland’s Somewhere Over The Rainbow and segued into a dialogue on love. Here the choreographer’s intent was so clear that the overall composition became more important than any isolated movement passages. The message of love and acceptance culminated with a protracted lip lock, titillating the audience and creating a theatrical crescendo.
Choreographer Andrea Miller, in collaboration with Gallim Dance, presented a personal elegy entitled Mike and Harvey. A loving tribute to Miller’s close friends and long time Fire Island residents Harvey Alter and Mike Young. Set to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings the trio reflected loss and separation. Shroud in a black cloche Gwyn Mackenzie seemed to mourn and reminisce Austin Tyson and Paul Vickers, who moved with a special tenderness. At the end the men simply sat on the upstage edge of the stage, legs dandling over, and looking out on the bay as if at home enjoying the sunset.
Dance Theatre of Harlem
Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Equillibrium (BROTHERHOOD) setto a contemporary jazz score by Kenji Bunch displayed a good use of counterpoint. The choreographer’s musicality could be seen through his use of cannon, and sculptural geometric and asymmetric groupings. Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers Dylan Santos, Anthony Javier Savoy and Jorge Andres Villarini danced with a technical ease, effortlessly jumping, turning and kicking throughout the abstract work.
Gay Paree (inspired by Freddie Falls in Love) ended the evening with an uproarious vacation for two male travelers to Paris. Choreographed by Al Blackstone with Billy Griffin the ensemble dance narrative moved with the fast paced unexpectedness of a vacation gone awry. This jazzy theatrical excursion into movement mischief added a different take on Americans in Paris.
The Fire Island Dance Festival is the most prestigious cultural and charitable event on the Fire Island Pines. For the last six consecutive years the festival has surpassed the previous year’s fundraising efforts; this year the festival raised a record-breaking $560,133. The funds assist the efforts of Dancers Responding to AIDS (DRA), a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. As a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, DRA supports more than 450 AIDS and family service organizations in all 50 states as well as the essential programs of The Actors Fund, including the HIV/AIDS Initiative and The Dancers’ Resource.
Fire Island Dance Festival 2016 Highlights
Over its 22 year history the Fire Island Dance Festival has raised more than 4.8 million dollars to help those in need living with HIV/AIDS. In addition, individuals with other debilitating illnesses in New York and across the country have access to lifesaving medications, counseling, healthy meals and emergency financial assistance. For more information, or to make a donation please visit Dancers Responding to AIDS at dradance.org, on Facebook at facebook.com/DRAdance, on Twitter at twitter.com/DRAdance, on YouTube at youtube.com/DRAdance and on Instagram at instagram.com/DRAdance.
The Dance Theatre Of Harlem presented their New York City season April 8 through 11 at New York City Center. This is the third season since the much heralded return of the company in 2012, and for the 2015 season Artistic Director Virginia Johnson curated two programs, a total of seven works, presented over four performances. Aside from the two neoclassical Balanchine works the repertoire reflected a new direction for the company.
Many have anticipated the return of the barrier breaking dance institution that literally evolved, under the direction of founder Arthur Mitchell, from Afros to ballet buns. The 2015 New York City season introduced a svelte company of eighteen young dancers that has evolved into a formidable contemporary ballet company. Johnson tapped an eclectic array of choreographers to challenge the dancers showcasing the strengths of each young artist.
The three highlights of the season were Nacho Duato’s Coming Together, Ulysses Dove’s On The Front Porch Of Heaven and The Mirror In Her Mind by Christopher Huggins. These works provided the dancers the opportunity to transcend the physical limitation of the stage. The dancers reached beyond the footlights to touch the audience.
Nacho Duato’s Coming Together kept us on a suspense filled movement roller coaster from beginning to end. This master craftsman skillfully heightened the work’s intensity through strong choreographic structure. His reliance on design produced a kinesthetically stimulating ensemble dance.
Virtuoso dancing performed at a breakneck pace enhanced the choreographic design and brought the company’s technical prowess to the forefront. Here the company was at its best! They performed with verve, vigor, and a strong assured attack- “balls forward”. They were not just dancing; instead the company was in the moment- living through the movement.
Da’Von Doane’s solo courageously “throw caution to the wind”. His risk taking paid off, at one point creating a catalyst effect that seemed to draw the dancers back to the stage. Dylan Santos also distinguished himself with clean execution; his firecracker attack revealed an exciting inner fire.
Christopher Huggins’ The Mirror In Her Mind was a visually satisfying quartet also danced with great aplomb by Ashley Murphy, Da’Von Doane, Anthony Savoy and Samuel Wilson. The dance was filled with sumptuous partnering executed with daring and precision. Leaping, turning and yearning with great abandon, Murphy’s male trio moved her effortlessly around the stage. Her compelling interpretation combined the right amount of strength and vulnerability.
If Huggins had designed a pure movement/abstract work the quartet would have been truly dazzling. As a narrative it lacked the needed character development to create a complete scenario. This dance felt like an excerpt, possibly the middle section from a larger work.
We never knew who the three men really were and what led Murphy on her path. To equate it in more visceral terms it was like sex without foreplay or afterglow- definitely satisfying just not totally fulfilling. A work with this much potential deserves a beginning section to establish the relationships and an ending section for a real resolution.
Ulysses Dove’s haunting allergy Dancing On The Front Porch Of Heaven made its Dance Theatre of Harlem premiered in 2014. The acquisition of this work helped set the tone for the company’s present and welcomed aestheticism. The work set to Arvo Part (Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten) featured dancers in white unitards designed by Jorge Gallardo.
The centerpiece of the work is a male duet performed by Anthony Savoy and Frederick Davis. The ethereal nature of the duet created a noble sojourn. Davis’ stoicism balanced Savoy’s brave journey into the unknown. The ensuing performance became a profound conversation between brethren. The final upstage ascent into the darkness was not an ending, but a peaceful walk into “the next”.
Throughout the season there were additional performers and performances that should be mentioned. In the opening section of Robert Garland’s Return, and the pas de quartre in Duato’s Coming Together Jenelle Figgins danced with the appropriate command and temperament. Chryrstyn Fentroy was a beacon of hope in Agon. Her performance in the second pas de trios section displayed technical proficiency, and a sense of confidence and élan. And Keenan English’s clean line and inmate style allowed him to standout in the corps. English has that God-given quality that makes you want to look at him.
As Dance Theatre of Harlem moves forward they will have to decide whether to recreate the Company of old or to move into a new future. Presently it seems they are trying to do both with a modicum of success. It would be a brave and bold move to honor the Company’s 45 year legacy by pursuing a direction more in tune with the present.
This new company could have a bright future if it redefines as oppose to confine itself to a past image and standards. The great response from the large and enthusiastic audience at New York City Center shows the public supports the new direction and has embraced this Dance Theatre Of Harlem. Hopefully they will get the proverbial “800 pound Neo-classic Gorilla” out of the room.
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