– Dance Review –
PHOTO: Dance Theatre of Harlem performed a crowd-pleasing show at the Touhill, Nov. 7-8, 2014. Photo by Rob Sifford for The Current 2014 ©

By Cate Marquis, A&E Editor for The Current

Dance Theatre of Harlem gave an inspired performance before a packed house on Saturday afternoon at Blanche M. Touhill Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall. The performance was the second of three at the Touhill this weekend, November 7 through 8. The Dance Theatre of Harlem performances were presented by Dance St. Louis as part of their 2014-2015 season.

The first African-American ballet troupe, Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded in the wake of the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination by Arthur Mitchell and the late Karel Shook, in part to dispel the racial myth that African-American dancers could not dance ballet and to also give back to the community of Harlem through offering youth the discipline of classical ballet. Almost immediately, the all African-American troupe was a success, shattering racial stereotypes and opening more doors for African-American dancers. Over the years, the troupe has had its ups and downs financially and was on hiatus for several years before being revived as an integrated troupe by Virginia Johnson, a founding member and former prima ballerina, who is now its artistic director.

The performances this weekend confirmed that the legendary troupe is back in fine form.

Dance Theatre of Harlem performed four dances with two intermissions for all three Touhill performances. The first two pieces in the program honored the troupe’s tradition of ballet, with classical music scores and ballet choreography. The second two pieces, which were separated by a second intermission, combined elements of modern dance with ballet.

“New Bach” was set to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Violin Concerto in A minor,” and divided into three movements. In the first, “Allegro Moderato,” ballerina Lindsey Croop was surrounded by four male dancers, all dressed in black leotards and tights, followed by a mirroring dance, with Frederick Davis surrounded by four ballerinas. The dance was classically beautiful and graceful, danced before a backdrop of diffused red and blue light. The second movement, “Andante” was a pas de deux by Croop and Davis, who were then joined by the company. The piece wrapped up with “Allegro Assai,” danced by the whole troupe. The dance still had all the grace and power of classical ballet but with a hint of salsa hips and a touch of Afro-Caribbean spice.

The second piece, “Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux,” was the most classically ballet piece of the performance, with choreography by the legendary George Balanchine and set to romantic music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky. Dancers Jenelle Figgins and Samuel Wilson wore classic ballet costumes, and also delivered the audience the thrills of leaps, pirouettes and lifts that mark classic ballet.

After an intermission, the program took a more contemporary turn, as the troupe returned with “Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven: Odes to Love and Loss.” The dance piece began with a darkened stage lit by a single white spotlight. As a church bell solemnly tolled, the beginning notes of Arvo Part’s “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten,” played and dancers in white leotards gathered in the spotlight, circling and swaying before spinning off into smaller groups. The piece was created during a difficult period in choreographer Ulysses Dove’s life, after losing 13 friends and relatives. The program notes stated that the choreographer “invites dancer and viewer alike to live in each moment as if it were the last,” which was clearly conveyed in the solemn, lyrical dance.

After the second intermission, the troupe returned with “Vessels,” a high-energy dance piece set to music by Ezio Bosso. The dance piece was a new piece by choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie, which just had its world premiere in October this year. The invigorating dance so delighted and energized the audience that they roared with approval, leaping to their feet at its conclusion.

With such a winning performance and strong audience turnout, Dance Theatre of Harlem is sure to make a return to the Touhill stage.

©  The Current 2014