Dance Theatre of Harlem closed their New York season at City Center on Oct. 7 with the "Apollo Show," which had been premiered at the Apollo Theatre this past June. Consisting of "South African Suite," "Dougla," and "Return," the entire program turned out to be a sizzler. Little wonder, too, for these are signature works from what the company refers to as their "classically American" repertoire.
"South African Suite," consisting of eight sequences choreographed by Augustus van Heerden, Laveen Naidu, and Artistic Director Arthur Mitchell, initially saw the musicians seated on an upper rail on stage playing occidental instruments as well as Afro and East Indian percussion. From beneath that level, the exotic Caroline Rocher emerged as the "Enduring Spirit." She could be the African birth mother as well as a radiant goddess spreading largesse and blessings over the land.
One doesn't necessarily have to be as nutty about cats as your devoted correspondent to appreciate "Felines," the second sequence. It offered unlimited opportunities to portray the antics and capers of cats of every size. In those interpreted by Kellye A. Saunders, James Washington, and Bethania Gomes, ranging from felia domestica to huge African creatures—lions, tigers, panthers, etc.—imaginations were given full sway as the various cats materialized. Even those who fear such critters could be capable of appreciating the imitations and whimsies of the aforementioned dancers.
What really struck like a bolt of lightning was sequence four, "The Warriors," featuring the men in startling, virile feats amid throbbing African rhythms. Lead dancers Ikolo Griffin and Mark Burns were followed by Antonio Douthit, Preston Dugger, Orlando Pagan, Claudio Sandoval, William Smith, Iyun Harrison, Ahmed Farouk, and Eric Underwood. Just for fun, they threw in a couple of clearly discernable ballet tours en l'air, no doubt to indicate that they are also up on their classical ballet and can take it in stride.
Akua Parker scored in the solo, "Blessing," and as leader of "Women." Jarina Carvalho, Rejane Duarte, Raintree Halpern, Amy Johnson, and Melissa Morrissey were her acolytes.
"A Gathering" saw the company in the breathtaking conclusion, with the ever-glowing Caroline Rocher as "Hope."
Worthy of attention was the apt program note: "Through music and movement, the many facets of South Africa are brought out of the earth revealing the commonality of all human kind. This is a place where the spirit of the people endures forever, despite their lamentations, and like the animals can be both playful and fiercely majestic."
That triple-threat man, Geoffrey Holder, created the choreography, music, and costumes for "Dougla" back in 1974. This time around there appeared to be several additions. Or is that due to the fact that the work seems better than ever with every viewing?
As to the meaning of "Dougla," a program note informed us, "Where twains meet, where Hindu and African tangle, their offspring are called 'Dougla.' " The performance mixture is made up of the fiercely revolving heads and pounding of African dance and hand movements or "mudras" reminiscent of Hindu dance; if not in actuality, the suggestive essence emerges, and does it ever result in a heady mixture! All this in addition to the luscious, swirling costumes.
Lenore Pavlakos' striking presence as "Woman in Green" provided us with an authoritative priestess, while the entire company formed a glistening picture in "Dougla People" led by Mark Burns, Lynda Sing, and Paunika Jones. Here, too, the stirring acrobatics exhibited by the men—Kevin Thomas, Ramon Thielen, Mark Burns, and Claudio Sandoval—were exhilarating. Their feats seemed dangerous, but were performed with an ease that left both admiration and a sense of the unbelievable. And speaking of exhilaration, "Dougla" had the audience cheering wildly from start to finish.
A similar attitude on the part of the audience prevailed throughout Robert Garland's "Return." The swiftly paced aspects of jazz at boiling point raised temperatures anew. With Paunika Jones and Donald Williams ripping the stage apart in "Baby, Baby, Baby," Claudio Sandoval, Paunika Jones, and Ramon Thielen rippling through "I Got the Feelin'," Lenore Pavlakos and Kip Sturm tearing through "Call Me," and Donald Williams heading the company in "Superbad," everything came off with the force of streaked lightning.
In the second half, the foregoing numbers were reprised by Duncan Cooper, Dionne Figgins, Tanya Wideman-Davis, Lynda Sing, Bethania Gomes, Mark Burns, Kevin Thomas, James Washington, and Preston Dugger.
As a whole, the company of Dance Theatre of Harlem is boundless in scope.
ABT in Tribute to the American Spirit
On Oct. 23, American Ballet Theatre will open its City Center engagement with "A Tribute to the American Spirit," dedicating the opening night performance to the heroes and victims of the tragic events of Sept. 11.
Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie has developed a special program featuring an excerpt from Kirk Peterson's "Amazed in Burning Dreams"; the "prayer" variation from Coppelia; the world premiere of "Reverie" by Robert Hill, created especially for Georgina Parkinson, Martine van Hamel, and Frederic Franklin; the company premiere of Lar Lubovitch's pas de deux, "My Funny Valentine"; Eliot Feld's "Variations on America"; the "Sylvia Pas de Deux" from Act II of Swan Lake; a pas de deux from Nacho Duato's "Without Words"; the Third Movement from Clark Tippet's "Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1"; and the ABT premiere of George Balanchine's "Symphony in C."
"The art of dance offers a liberating and uplifting reminder of what the human spirit can achieve," stated McKenzie.
ABT's City Center season runs through Nov. 4. Benefit tickets for opening night range from $250-$1,500. Benefit prices include prime seating and a post-performance supper to be held at the University Club. For further information and to purchase benefit tickets, call ABT's special events office at (212) 477-3030, ext. 3239.
Performance only tickets for the opening can be purchased by calling CityTix at (212) 581-1212, where you can also purchase tickets for other performances and get more information on ABT's entire City Center season.
Free Performance of Isadora Duncan Dance
Lori Belilove & Company will perform legendary solos and group works from the Duncan repertory in the context of an educational program on the life and artistry of Isadora Duncan—the spirited legendary performer and icon of American freedom. The free program is open to everyone and will include demonstrations of the Duncan technique as well as historical commentary by noted Duncan authority Julia Levien.
Venue: The Donnell Library Center Auditorium, 20 West 53rd St., NYC. Performance: Oct. 23 from 6-7:30 pm.
Parsons Dance Returns to the Joyce
The U.S. premiere of "Kind of Blue," the New York premiere of "Annuals," plus "The Hunt," a world premiere from Robert Battle, highlight The Parsons Dance Company's season at the Joyce Theater, which commenced on Oct. 16 and runs through Oct. 28.
"Kind of Blue" is David Parsons' tribute to the late jazz great Miles Davis, which was created for and premiered at this summer's Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy. This commemorated the 10th anniversary of Davis' death and the 75th year since the legend was born. "Annuals" is his newest dance, while "The Hunt" is a creation of former company member Battle.
Venue: The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave., NYC. Performances: Tues.-Sat. at 8 pm, Sun. at 7:30 pm, and Sat. and Sun. matinees at 2 pm. Tickets: $38 at the Joyce Theater box office, or call Joyce Charge at (212) 242-0800.