Harlem ballet teaches dance

Anna Osipova

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Star rating: 4 out of 5

Ballet dancers from the Dance Theater of Harlem performed at the Plaza del Sol Feb. 2. Photo courtesy of Therri Donnelly

Dance Theater of Harlem took a new approach to ballet, an idea fairly familiar to them. From its start through Arthur Mitchell, DTH has always looked for ways to make their choreography and school unique while staying true to classical ballet technique. Somehow, they found that middle ground and made ballet an accessible art in America. The same can be held true for their Interactive Performances, as they call them.

On Feb. 2, DTH came to the Plaza del Sol Theater as part of their nationwide tour. They brought with them a strange concept for ballet: bring the audience into the performance.

Keith Saunders, the director of DTH Ensemble, talked the audience through the performance. He even got the audience to laugh when he invited audience members to get on stage- except he wasn’t kidding.

During one part of the show, he asked three men to come to the stage so he could demonstrate how important a partner is to a dancer. It took some coaxing and one of them turned out to be Ikolo Griffin, who used to dance with DTH. Much like the barre (warm-up exercises done with the support of a horizontal bar) demonstration at the beginning of the show, the man’s role is to act as support for the dancer. Thankfully, the volunteers had somebody next to them to help guide them, or catch the ballerina in a couple of instances.

My first impression, especially during the barre demonstration, was that I was sitting in on a ballet class and I found myself (and the person sitting behind me ) debating whether it was boring or interesting.

The ensemble performed several pieces, many of which were choreographed by Robert Garland, the resident choreographer. Garland has an interesting style that incorporates both very traditional ballet techniques with some modern, urban touches, like “Soulja Boy”. His pieces “New Bach” and “Mother Popcorn” was a great example of how modern choreography can loosen up ballet and make it more approachable as well as more visually stimulating.

Much appreciated was DeVon Doane’s performance in “New Bach”. While the whole piece looked good, Doane’s facial expressions brought the piece together. Unfortunately, many dancers forgot that they were on stage and they need to act out the piece beyond the choreography, particularly with a dance as expressive as this one.

“Episode”, a pas de deux, was introduced as a dance based on the relationships between men and women. Although the music was a little bit repetitive for the length, the choreography did live up to the introduction. The movements seemed to portray a person’s need for support in a relationship, arguments that push couples apart, and tender gestures that are taken for granted. The costume designer, Christina Giannini, noticeably took into consideration the choreography.

For everything good I unexpectedly found in the performance, I was disappointed on the level of preparation. For a ballet to be truly visually stunning, the dancers have to be totally in sync and they have to be able to make it look effortless. If one person is off, it throws the entire picture off. And unfortunately, I found inconsistencies throughout the show that distracted me from the overall picture.

For a basic demonstration, the show accomplished its goal. The technique was there and the audience was engaged. But, for a demonstration of skill and grace, it fell short. I kept looking for more displays of flexibility and more intricate exercises.