With every reason to look less than pristine--a recent six-month layoff, for instance--Dance Theatre of Harlem put on a show this weekend at the South Bay Center for the Arts that allowed no such thing. In fact, the performances brimmed with vigor, with stylishness.
After all, there was much to celebrate: the company’s 25th anniversary, a testament to the vision of founder-director Arthur Mitchell, and a happy return, after three years, to Los Angeles.
As in the past, DTH focused on straightforward dramatic narrative in its choreography . And except for a nod to Duke Ellington (Ailey’s “The River”), the two programs stayed strictly in the province of dead, white, male composers.
But the new material made a lavish showcase for the balletically primed dancers. Billy Wilson’s “Ginastera,” set to a mix-and-match of pieces by that composer, boasted exuberant ensembles with brooding, mysterious reveries for the ever-elegant, flirtatious, Maja-like hauteur of Virginia Johnson, and capitalized on the hulking, Limon-esque power of Hugues Magen.
Glen Tetley’s “Dialogues,” which exults in the drama of stretched limbs, high extensions and sumptuous, arching lifts, is Mitchell’s gift to his dancers. In their sleek, white unitards they define the modern ballet aesthetic, its linear beauty, its effortless plastique. Especially Tai Jimenez, a Balanchine ideal if there ever were one. With her long, tapered arms and legs, perfect turn-out, supreme suppleness and small, narrow torso, she and the eloquent Eddie J. Shellman tapped the troubled lyricism in Ginastera’s Piano Concerto with their eerie swoons.
Elsewhere in “Dialogues,” which is just that--a series of pas de deux--the momentous music inspired explosive partnerings as well as darkly whimsical ones. In all, a terrific vehicle.
But for sheer bedazzlement nothing beat Michael Smuin’s “Medea,” a shrewdly figured variation on the Martha Graham opus using the same Barber score--danced here by virtuosos of the first order and set in a framework of high-blown drama.
Theatrical force wedded to powerful technique made Donald Williams an unforgettable Jason. So was Jimenez in her clearest element here as the Princess. Their sweet seduction of a duet boasted many levels of intimacy. And Lisa Attles in the title role conveyed a serpentine and magisterial evil.
“The River,” the other new acquisition, looked good on the company, with Patrick Johnson--who made every move a great physical moment--a standout.