Monday, April 28, 2014

DTH Aims High

New Bach. Photo: Rachel Neville
Here's the thing about being a Ballet company. There is a standard canon that must be mastered, a kind of core curriculum that you must pass in order to be awarded a metaphorical degree, which allows you to go on and do whatever the heck you want. Said canon includes a list of difficult steps, such as the fouetté (for women) and the double tour en l'air (men), in addition to including some classic standards in your repertory. You can embrace that canon—as have most major ballet companies in New York, including Dance Theatre of Harlem—or ignore it. Choosing it means not only that you're serious about being a part of the continuum of classical ballet, but that you're accepting failure as an option, but admitting that you have a ways to go. And, of course, mastery means just that. The company performed at the Rose Theater last week in its second return season.

DTH, by that standard, has some work to do. Electing to perform Petipa's Pas de Dix, sections of Raymonda's final act from 1898, indicates that the company (reconstituted last year under Virginia Johnson's artistic direction) has high goals and is serious about pursuing them. Keeping that in mind makes it somewhat easier to watch the young troupe attempt these difficult moves and at times fall short. Ballet can be a cruel art—while it can't ultimately be held to a binding standard, such as timed speed or first across the line—it can be graded and compared to ideals of perfection. That said, there were many lovely performances, including by the two leads: the serene, precise Ashley Murphy and Da'von Daone, with his explosive jumping ability.

DTH's second season in its rebirth provides many reasons for optimism. Two of the works I saw last year were reprised: Swan Lake Act III pas de deux, and Return (1999), choreographed by Robert Garland. This year, Nayara Lopes, magnetic, with a supremely flexible lower body, performed the Black Swan with Samuel Wilson, once again confident and strong, with sailing grand jétés, and the ability to finish a double tour in arabesque. Return, again featuring Daone, remains a terrific show closer, with its crowd-pleasing R&B score and combination of ballet, jazz, and instantaneous switching from effete ballet to goofy club idioms.

New Bach was choreographed by Garland in 2001, and with its proximity style-wise to Return, it might have been better served being separated on the program by another dance. It, too, blended classical ballet with jazz-inflected moves. The women walk on pointe, sinking into their hips; it resembles the strange way supermodels slink down a runway. Pamela Allen-Cummings designed the elegant rhinestone trimmed navy costumes. Lindsey Croop, leggy and suave, led the cast, which looked at ease and happy to be performing such a witty and fun dance. But don't let this light-hearted dance overshadow the fact that DTH is serious about tackling the classical idiom.

Company note: Michaela DePrince, so memorable in last year's run, left DTH to join the Dutch National Ballet's second company. While her personal story of survival is riveting, and her astounding ballon and flexibility are missed, it gives DTH's other accomplished dancers more of a chance to shine, and shine they did. Here's hoping she returns to New York at some point, on tour or with another company, so we can see her artistic progression.

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