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The Artistry of DTH

Dance Theatre of Harlem has just concluded its 30th-anniversary season at City Center. Since the company has not been seen in midtown Manhattan for a number of years, we couldn't help wondering whether its original impact was still present. Well, in the performance seen on Sept. 25, everything had burgeoned toward unbelievable artistry.

Augustus Van Heerden, Laveen Naidu, and Arthur Mitchell, the founder-artistic director of DTH, all contributed to the choreography of South African Suite. Music was composed and performed by the Soweto String Quartet, seated on a platform high above the stage. With this work the choreographers and musicians not only managed to capture elements of the earth, the people's spirit, and the territory's animals-they also captured and illustrated the awesome, impeccable abilities of all the dancers involved.

While the six-member string ensemble played the introduction, we became aware of the attractive form of Caroline Rocher in reclining position. When she rose, representing the "Enduring Spirit," we were immediately aware of her elegance and extraordinary line. She also stunned in her solo, "Hope."

Portraying "Felines," Kellye A. Saunders and James Washington could be seen as the big cats of South Africa or their smaller relatives-domestic cats, as they cavorted, teased, fought, and generally got into anything else befitting felis domesticus. "Warriors," led by Duncan Cooper and Ramon Thielen, may be a feigned battle, but it nevertheless came across the footlights with a vigor that made it seem the real thing. Camille Parson interpreting the solo "Blessing," with its East Indian overtones, matched Caroline Rocher in exquisite form.

Resident choreographer Robert Garland has described his creation Return (a world premiere) as "post-modern urban neo-classicism." I haven't had the time to figure that one out. I can tell you that, to my way of viewing, this was a sprightly jazz piece, accompanied by songs of James Brown, Alfred Ellis, Aretha Franklin, and Carolyn Franklin. With lead dancers Andrea Long, Duncan Cooper, Kellye A. Saunders, Donald Williams, Ramon Thielen, Lenore Pavlakos, and Kip Sturm perking and sparkling, who needs any further explanations? A prime feature of the Garland work was the utilization of startling poses in silhouette at the beginning and conclusion of each section.

Firebird, for which Stravinsky composed the score, was originally choreographed by Michel Fokine for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, and presented at the Paris Opera in 1910. The Russian folktale was also seen in Balanchine's ballet of the same name, created for New York City Ballet in 1949, and presented at City Center with Maria Tallchief in the title role. The versions were similar in plot but differed in choreography. Numerous other choreographers have created their own versions, but space limitations preclude listing these.

John Taras' Firebird for DTH is similar in plot to the original, but choreography, locale, costumes, and names of characters differ somewhat. There is still A Young Man instead of Prince Ivan, avid to rescue the Princess-here referred to as Princess of Unreal Beauty-but The Prince of Evil replaces the monster Kostchei. Taras' choreography is admirable throughout, and the production is a visual gem in all aspects. In their exotic splendor Geoffrey Holder's glorious costume and scenic designs could suggest the Orient, the tropics, or even the Oriental provinces of Russia.

Judy Tyrus was absolutely awesome as the Firebird, who aids the Young Man in rescuing the Princess of Unreal Beauty from the Prince of Evil. She possesses the boundless ballon essential to the half-bird-half-woman. Her bourr es in particular, performed with supernatural speed across the stage, gave the illusion of flames emanating from her legs and arms. Duncan Cooper possessed heroic presence as the Young Man. Tania Leon was the astute conductor of the Stravinsky score.

The DTH City Center engagement ran from Sept. 21 to Oct. 3.

"Quat'zarts," Trois Nuits

The French Institute/Alliance Fran‡aise (FIAF) will be presenting the U.S. premiere of "A fuego lento," by the nine-year-old French dance company Quat'zarts. The show will run for three consecutive nights at Florence Gould Hall. On Fri. and Sat., Oct. 8 and 9, the 8 pm performance will be followed by a Tango Dance Party; on Sun., Oct. 10, the performance alone will be presented at 7 pm.

Venue: Florence Gould Hall, 55 E. 59th St., NYC. Admission: performance-only: $35 and $28 (FIAF members); performance, Tango Party, and refreshments: $45 and $38 (FIAF members). Tickets: Florence Gould Hall box office (212) 355-6160, or Ticketmaster (212) 307-4100.

A Visit From Australia

One of Australia's best cultural assets, The Australian Ballet, has a one-week engagement at City Center, Oct. 12-17. The company, under the direction of Ross Stretton, will present six ballets-four American premieres and the New York premiere of "Divergence."

Excitement centers around the American premiere of "Rites." This work is a collaboration between The Australian Ballet and the aboriginal Bangarra Dance Theatre. "Rites," launched at the 1997 Melbourne Festival, is a fusion of Australian indigenous culture and ballet, creating a totally new Australian expression of dance. Choreography is by Stephen Page, artistic director of the Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Another highlight is the American premiere of Madame Butterfly, a two-act ballet, adapted and staged by the company's resident choreographer, Stanton Welch.

Information/tickets: (212) 581-1212.

Miami City Ballet in NJPAC Debut

Edward Villella's Miami City Ballet debuts at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center-Sat., Oct. 9, at 8 pm; and Sun., Oct. 10, at 3 pm. Villella became the founding artistic director in 1986.

Balanchine's complete Jewels ("Emeralds," "Rubies," and "Diamonds") will be performed on Oct. 9. A mixed repertoire will be seen on Oct. 10: Prodigal Son, and "Glinka Pas de Trois," by Balanchine; "Arden Court," by Paul Taylor; and "The Big Band SUPERMEGATROID," by Jimmy Gamonet De Los Heros, set to the swing hits of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller.

During Villella's years with New York City Ballet he originated various roles, including "Tarantella," the "Rubies" section of Jewels, and Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Villella literally leapt to stardom in the 1960 revival of Balanchine's Prodigal Son.

The NJPAC engagement of Miami City Ballet is presented as part of the Aetna-US Healthcare International Dance Series. Venue: NJPAC, 1 Center St., Newark, NJ. (Reachable by PATH trains from Manhattan.) Tickets/information: $12-$56. Call (888) GO-NJPAC/(888) 466-5722. q

Free Fall Dance

A performance titled "October Dances" can be viewed at University Settlement, 184 Eldridge St., NYC, Oct. 9 and 10, at 7:30 pm. The cooperative venture features short works by Nadine Helstroffer, Lydia Johnson, and Saeko Miyake. Admission is free. Seating is limited. q

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