Dance Theatre of Harlem's Variety
In the concluding week of performances at City Center by Dance Theatre of Harlem, further aspects of the company's vast versatility were highlighted with Dwight Rhoden's "Twist"; "The Balcony Scene" from Romeo and Juliet, consisting of a pas de deux conceived by Gabriella Taub-Darvash; Michael Smuin's "Medea," staged by Robert Sund and Evelyn Cisneros; and the John Taras version of "Firebird."
"Twist" lived up to the definition of the phrase "all right," as vivified by the choreographer's explanation: "Unexpected direction given or taken from a situation. A special or different meaning, method, or slant. To spiral, coil bend, distort on and along an axis or central point."
In the beginning of "Twist," the company came across with such a forceful sweep that the choreography seemed at times to spill over. The ballet consisted mainly of four pas de deux: "Tryst," "Bend Buckle Screw," "Writhe," and "Warped Rapture," as well as a pas de trois, "Torsion." The last named, which is defined as "The state of being spirally twisted," seemed to be the key to the entire work. Much centered around women being lifted to the heights, then having their bodies circled in air and swept downward. At times, it almost appeared as if the men were about to sweep the floor with the ladies, the movements were that hectic.
Despite the program's contention, in part, that "Neoclassicism, exoticism, and vision define its beauty and uniqueness within the world of ballet," we tended to see "Twist" as extended jazz aerobics. No reflection on dancers Donald Williams, Kellye A. Saunders, Caroline Rocher, Kip Sturm, Bethania Gomes, James Washington, Lynda Sing, Ramon Thielen, Leslie Anne Cardona, Tanya Wideman, Mark Burns, and Don Bellamy, all of whom performed flawlessly.
After seeing a lifetime of Romeo and Juliet productions in ballet form, and particularly the balcony scene with the essential pas de deux, performed to the familiar Prokofiev score, we could still find appreciation for the one choreographed by Gabriella Taub-Darvash. Not that her work was particularly original or spectacular. It was the endearing ardor displayed by Bethania Gomes and Duncan Cooper that won admiration. Romeo and Juliet were youngsters in their early teens, and the team of Gomes and Cooper performed most convincingly as vulnerable children, experiencing fear and discovery while the flames of love engulfed them.
Who could have believed that the sorceress of Greek legend, Medea, who killed to help Jason obtain the Golden Fleece, and who, later on, when he deserted her for Creusa, Princess of Corinth, killed her own children, could be reflected in a ballet of twenty minutes duration? And most effectively.
Lenore Pavlakos seems born to play implacable, villainous females. Her recent performance of Myrta, Queen of the Willis, in Giselle was one of the most authoritative ever seen in the role. Her Medea was no less so. When Pavlakos came on, treading slowly to the front of the stage in a swirling purple robe, her entire demeanor immediately established her as a fearful creature aided by evil spirits.
There were short scenes of a happy family life with Jason, Medea, and their two sons. Then Creusa entered. In the person of Caroline Rocher she was all sensuality. Jason lost no time in abandoning wife and children. Instead of Creusa's death by poisoned robe, Medea was seen strangling her rival, with such ingenious weaving of the rope it brought gasps of astonishment from the audience.
Medea's murder of her two sons was reflected as she trod slowly down stage, this time in a blood red robe. When she discarded the robe, the dead children were seen in the background.
Michael Smuin achieved "Medea" in a sort of tableaux presentation—concise, succinct, and satisfying. In addition to the dynamic Lenore Pavlakos, Donald Williams as Jason and Caroline Rocher as Creusa were incisive. Mark Burns and Kevin Thomas left sympathetic impressions as the children of Medea and Jason.
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"Firebird" is not the familiar Fokine ballet, which is set in old, old Russia and is based on the folk tale of the creature who is half-bird and half-woman. The John Taras work does follow the familiar plot about a young man who captures the Firebird. When he releases her after she pleads with him, she gives him a magical feather, which will protect him from danger. The feather eventually aids him in conquering the monsters headed by the Prince of Evil, and rescuing the Princess of Unreal Beauty. All of which is achieved with the aid of the Firebird when he waves the magic feather. She appears and helps him destroy the Prince of Evil and his monsters.
The ballet concludes with the wedding of the young man and the Princess of Unreal Beauty, amid a lavish celebration attended by courtiers, attendants, and bearers of pennants.
While Taras visualized the locals as somewhere in the tropics, the plot worked just as well as in the Russian version. After all, no country possesses a monopoly on fairy tales. Magnificent costumes and scenery designed by Geoffrey Holder were a great asset in creating fanciful illusions.
In the title role, Tanya Wideman gave a performance of riveting dimensions. She was thoroughly bird-like in the magical fluttering of her hands and the preening of her neck, and, as the woman, she utilized her arms with fierce downward thrusts, as if they had turned to swords and destroyed the monsters. Her lightning bourrées in all directions were completely galvanizing. Ms. Wideman won a standing ovation, which was justified in all respects.
Kip Sturm was "princely" in appearance and heroic in action throughout the ballet, while Leanne Codrington as the Princess had little to do but appear beautiful, and did she ever turn out to be a stunner! The Prince of Evil and his two leading monsters were fully realized by Mark Burns, Ramon Thielen, and Kevin Thomas, respectively.
Everything came through ideally with "Firebird," including the excellent reading of the familiar Stravinsky score by conductor Joseph E. Fields.
Free Classes for Six Months at the BDC
The Broadway Dance Center will host their fourth biannual Richard Ellner Scholarship audition. Richard Ellner founded the Broadway Dance Center in 1984. Since his passing in 1998, the scholarship was established in his name to support dancers and performing artists in their training and development. The scholarship entitles three students to 10 free classes at the Broadway Dance Center weekly for six months. Scholarships will be given to three dancers age 16 and older.
Auditions will be held Oct. 25 at 9 am to 12 noon at the Broadway Dance Center, 221 W. 57 St., NYC. Dancers must bring a picture, resume, and application to audition. A short ballet and theatre jazz combination will be given. For further information call Pam Chancey at (212) 582-9304, ext. 30.