Saturday, April 9, 2016

Dance Theatre of Harlem's season at New York City Center

Nayara Lopes, Chyrstyn Fentroy and Stephanie Rae Williams
of Dance Theatre of Harlem in Dianne McIntyre's Change
(photo: Jeff Cravotta)

Classical ballet isn't really my beat (or my jam), and I'll admit it's been quite a while since I've seen Dance Theatre of Harlem which now appears to be doing its best work as...contemporary dancers!

Last night's show at New York City Center bolstered that conclusion. Elena Kunikova's stodgy, if pleasant, classicism in Divertimento does nothing to help these dancers go out there and "sparkle like diamonds"--Virginia Johnson's final instruction to her company. Although intended as a kind of sampling of and homage to story ballet roles and traditions, it seems stuck in its imagery, and some dancers aren't even prepared to ride the music (Glinka) or, with the exception of Brazil-born Ingrid Silva, to look as if they genuinely enjoy what they are dancing.

Chyrstyn Fentroy's dancing in When Love (2012), a contemporary duet by Helen Pickett, acts as a buffer against the work's syrupy romanticism about the "very old, old story of love." Here's a real diamond for Johnson. Supple. Playful. Ardent. The engine of this piece, Fentroy's alive from the inside, uncorking energy that even makes suitor Jorge Andres Villarini seem a little sharper than usual. Back in 2015, Dance Magazine advised us to keep an eye on Fentroy, and I can well understand why.

ChangeDianne McIntyre's tribute to oft-unheralded women of color ("warriors for change"), benefits from tapping a similar vigor shared by DTH's current corps of women. Another contemporary piece--reflective of McIntyre's long, lauded career in modern dance--it serves dancers like Stephanie Rae WilliamsLindsey Croop and Nayara Lopes well to the extent that technique, rather than existing for display alone, shades into expression, conviction and meaning.

Change evokes Black spirituality, struggle and achievement. Late in the work, the trio appears in multi-shaded leotards made of scraps from tights worn from former DTH dancers, and I am mindful of the current season's emphasis on women choreographers and the legacy of Black women in ballet. But I had a moment when, towards the end, movements refocused my thinking from dance to sports--sprinters, broad-shouldered swimmers, Serena Williams. Why Serena Williams--though I adore her--when ballet has its own Black sheroes? Did my mind go there--and possibly McIntyre's, too--because that's the way we see things here in Americaland? Someday, perhaps, more of our youngsters will also look to dance, readily and directly, for exemplars of courage.

Not to be completely outdone by the ladies, the men of DTH finally find and unleash their energy--and then some--for Nacho Duato's flashy Coming Together (1991; DTH premiere, 2015).  But can I take a minute to single out Anthony Javier Savoy? Whether whipping through Coming Together with his mates or showing his elegant partnering skills in Divertimento, Savoy models the proper combination of reliable, focused technique and equally focused presence. Like Fentroy, he's another special diamond to treasure.

The DTH season concludes today with performances at 2pm (Program B) and 8pm (Program A). For specific programming and cast information and tickets, click here.

New York City Center
131 W 55th St (between 6th and 7th Avenues), Manhattan

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