DANCE REVIEW : HARLEM TROUPE OPENS PASADENA ENGAGEMENT
Dance Theatre of Harlem likes to keep us guessing. About the time we had Arthur Mitchell’s company pegged as an Aileyesque energy circus with a few balletic pretensions, the company began to define itself through meticulous productions of classical and neoclassical masterworks. After that , steamy dance dramas dominated the Harlem repertory for a season or two.
At the moment, stylistic hybrids appear to have caught the company’s roving fancy. Certainly the seven-performance Harlem engagement that began in Pasadena Civic Auditorium on Saturday is largely devoted to choreographies that blend distinctive dance idioms. And, just as certainly, this impulse toward the fusion of genres has long been one of the major preoccupations in American black dance.
The new Harlem revision of Billy Wilson’s vibrant 1981 “Concerto in F” ups the ante of hybridization by adding pointe- work accents to a mix that already includes influences from Broadway and modern dance and which achieves its most indelible effects through twisty, sensuous torso and limb motion. (Without toe shoes, it has been danced for local audiences by the Ailey company.)
During the outer sections of Gershwin’s showpiece (played dimly on tape), Wilson opts for formal display dancing tinged with social portraiture. There’s a spectacular opening solo that Donald Williams can’t quite handle yet--his jumps and turns are terrific but the floor action and tense, mid-phrase poses become smeared.
Soon an efficient, impassive Stephanie Dabney joins Williams for a balletic adagio (the least inventive passage in the work). Before they finish, there’s a none-too-securely executed sequence of acrobatic catches for the corps and, later on, some high-kicking, hip-swinging, show-biz reinforcement of the score’s most driving attacks.
The central section is situation comedy: a competition between two guys for a passing girl. Like Carl Michel’s scenic cityscape, it may come too close to “Fancy Free” for comfort, but it does allow Charmaine Hunter some irresistible clowning, and, in the duets for Joseph Cipolla and Hugues Magen, it catches the bluesy heat of the music just about perfectly.
If “Concerto in F” depicts the diversity of a city, and reflects the eclecticism of a score, through a mosaic of dance genres, Glen Tetley’s familiar, elegiac “Voluntaries” (music by Poulenc) attempts to graft gymnastic modernisms onto the ballet vocabulary for purposes of enhanced expressivity.
Trouble is, the result is clumsy and overdriven--and most of the Harlem dancers can’t handle it. In the leading role, Yvonne Hall dances steps powerfully, but nearly ignores the clenched, sinewy arm rotations that energize the work’s key image (a cruciform lift). Augustus van Heerden partners her capably, but succumbs to involuntary awkwardnesses in his big solo.
Only Williams, Dabney and Cipolla (in secondary assignments) come through with cool virtuosity in every Tetleyian context.
Cipolla also dances strongly in the company’s well-known, crowd-pleasing revival of George Balanchine’s “Stars and Stripes,” a divertissement to Sousa music that adds a few parade-ground moves to the academic classical vocabulary but mostly explores the balletic applications of march rhythm.
The other principals include Eddie J. Shellman (relaxed yet brilliant) opposite Judy Tyrus (brittle and hectic) in the pas de deux, plus a blandly proficient Lorraine Graves and a technically overtaxed Charmaine Hunter.