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DANCE REVIEW : Harlem Co. Offers Final Bill in Pasadena

Times Dance Writer

Geoffrey Holder’s “Dougla,” Robert North’s “Troy Game” and, especially, John Taras’ “Firebird” have always been hot tickets in the Dance Theatre of Harlem repertory. Each conjures up a fantasy culture unmistakably shaped by a black sensibility. Each offers offbeat opportunities for virtuosity or spectacle--and each has a dynamite curtain call that manages to heighten audience enthusiasm.

However, none of these company staples is exactly a choreographic masterwork, so putting them on the same program--as the company did on Saturday and Sunday in Pasadena Civic Auditorium--emphasizes stagecraft, technique and personality over any other values. On Sunday afternoon, the only vestiges of high art came from Judy Tyrus (a powerful, dangerous Firebird with magically shimmering bourrees), and even she got into the spirit of the occasion when hurling red glitter-dust during the curtain calls.

Created in 1974, “Dougla” is a preposterously exotic costume parade: a couturier’s vision of the Third World. Along with contributing the quasi-ritualistic, mostly processional choreography, Holder devised the rhythmic score and glamorous apparel--all imagining a fabulous Afro-Hindu folk culture. Red or white tiered skirts festooned with pompons are the basic uniform here and an amalgam of wagging heads, scolding fingers and grinding hips the primary movement statement.

Obviously, some classics of 19th-Century ballet are no less improbable as cultural portraits and Holder’s exotic entertainment has the benefit of brilliant staging and stylish performances.

Holder also is responsible for the lush scenery and bold costumes that move “Firebird” from its origins in mythic Russia to a jungle somewhere in the Caribbean. As conducted by David LaMarche, the Stravinsky score survives the trip intact, but Taras’ neoclassic formality looks awfully stiff and stale among the orchids.

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Besides Tyrus, the principals included Judith Rotardier as a gorgeous, gracious princess, Leslie Woodard as a lightweight villain (a male role when the work was new seven years ago) and Augustus van Heerden as a sweet, unassertive hero.

Choreographed for London Contemporary Dance Theatre in 1973, “Troy Game” sets gladitorial training exercises and locker-room horseplay to Brazilian folk music. But the DTH version looks not a whit British, Brazilian or Greco-Trojan. It has been transformed into a sassy, streetwise black-American dance showpiece. A recent videotape of the original English production proves that nothing worthwhile was lost in the translation. To the contrary.

Lowell Smith was again hilarious Sunday afternoon as the most outrageous of the jocks, and, of course, the familiar muscle-man competition during the curtain calls brought the house down.


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