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Dance Theatre of Harlem's African Roots, American Voices Program Delivers a Range of Emotions

by Lewis J Whittington
March 9, 2016
Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
3680 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
215 898 3900
Dance Theatre of Harlem had the nearly sold out crowd March 4 at the Annenberg Center, sounding like a soccer stadium for their return to Philadelphia just two years into their return as a fully operating company. Artistic director Virginia Johnson is carrying forth the legacy of DTH founder Arthur Mitchell and expanding it for longtime fans and a new generation of audiences.

In Philly, DTH was on the tail end of a two month tour before they headed back to New York City for their Spring home season. Part of the Annenberg Center's performance series African Roots, American Voices, the company presented a program of repertory works.

Although the ensemble could have been tighter in the larger group pieces, the thrilling, gifted roster of dancers showed strength of artistry and technique.

The porgram opened with Darrell Grand Moultrie’s "Vessels" with themes of light, belief, love and abundance. Moultrie’s ensemble sections with ten dancers were the most captivating. Intriguing stage compositions had the dancers moving in flowing and disparate movement streams. Among the soloists it was hard to miss the stellar pointe work by Ingrid Silva and the riveting tours-en-l'air by Dylan Santos. Moultrie was less inventive with a series of duets for the five male-female couples, but they were nonetheless vibrantly danced.

Next came Christopher Huggins’ "In the Mirror Her Mind" set to Henryk Gorecki's searing "Tranquillissimo" movement from his Symphony No.3. It was Huggins' stirring dance elegy created in 2011 for the Dancers Responding to AIDS benefit and struck as a daring concert piece because of its somberness. In it, Alison Stroming portrayed a dying woman who lay crumpled on the floor until she was lifted up by Da’Von Doane, Anthony Javier Savoy and Santos.

Stroming hurtled her body around in despair, moving between the men, grasping at them, as she finally came to accept her fate. Huggins' choreography was brutal, raw, and in key moments, transcendent. Stroming delivered a tour-de-force performance.

Equally as dramatic, Ulysses Dove's "Dancing on the Porch of Heaven: Odes to Love and Loss" (1993), danced to the searing "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten" by Arvo Part, was Dove's “poetic monument” for friends and relatives who had died recently, among them his father.

Dove, who died of complications from AIDS in 1996, is one of the most underappreciated and visionary American choreographers and it is great to see a resurgence of his work being shown in the U.S.

The early 1990s was the height of the AIDS pandemic. Hit particularly hard were gay men in the dance community. The central duet in "Dancing on the Porch of Heaven: Odes to Love and Loss" danced with arresting strength and beauty by Anthony Javier Savoy and Jorge Andres Villarini, suggested friends and lovers coming to terms with imminent death. Dove expresses their intimate physicality in tender lifts, patterns and sculptural movements that kept evolving. Dove’s stunning choreographic artistry a reminder what a loss his voice has been to the dance world.

The program closed with Philadelphia native Robert Garland's "Return." Garland was a member of Philadanco before he danced for Arthur Mitchell at DTH. His choreographic career also started at DTH.

"Return" was created for DTH's 30th Anniversary Season in 1999 and it was as spirited as ever - even though a new generation of dancers might have had to work overtime to get the juice of some of those social and club dances that Garland mixed into the fireworks display of balletics in the piece.

Set to the songs of the "Godfather of Soul," James Brown and the "Queen of Soul," Aretha Franklin, the work had dancer Nayara Lopes in flirty gyrations setting a fun mood in “Mother Popcorn.” More fireworks from the ensemble in Franklin’s “Baby, Baby, Baby” had the dancers jetting through lifts and spins. But it was the finale “Superbad,” with Da’Von Doane’s sizzling micro-funk that spurred the sensational flashback dances of soul city walking, the bump, and those channeling TV's Soul Train.
Dance Theatre of Harlem in Ulysses Dove's 'Dancing on the Porch of Heaven: Odes to Love and Loss.'

Dance Theatre of Harlem in Ulysses Dove's "Dancing on the Porch of Heaven: Odes to Love and Loss."

Photo © & courtesy of Christopher Duggan


Dance Theatre of Harlem in Christopher Huggins’ 'In the Mirror Her Mind.'

Dance Theatre of Harlem in Christopher Huggins’ "In the Mirror Her Mind."

Photo © & courtesy of Renata Pavam


Dance Theatre of Harlem in Robert Garland's 'Return.'

Dance Theatre of Harlem in Robert Garland's "Return."

Photo © & courtesy of Matthew Murphy


Dance Theatre of Harlem in Darrell Grand Moultrie’s 'Vessels.'

Dance Theatre of Harlem in Darrell Grand Moultrie’s "Vessels."

Photo © & courtesy of Renata Pavam

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