Only One False Move From the Dance Theatre of Harlem

The U.S. dance company performed four works at the Tel Aviv Opera House last week – and three of them were fantastic.

Rachel Neville

Dance Theatre of Harlem performed at the Tel Aviv Opera House last week and rarely put a foot wrong, following a disappointing start.

One of America’s oldest predominantly African-American dance companies, the troupe generally sticks with the ballet classics alongside works that preserve the cultural tradition of the U.S. black community.

The Tel Aviv program began slowly with “The Lark Ascending,” choreographed by Alvin Ailey, one of the greats of modern dance.

We’re familiar with his marvelous works that utilize his unique language, but this piece, first performed in 1972, is of a different cloth.

An apt description would be to call it a piece from the decade when modern dance joined forces with classical ballet and became a recognized movement. However, the two styles never gelled here and the dancers didn’t appear at their best.

Moving passages

Then came a performance of Darrell Grand Moultrie’s “Vessels,” which is neoclassical ballet, rich in interesting solutions and using a dance language that really suited the bodies of the dancers, who were marvelous.

It was followed by a wonderful Ulysses Dove work, “Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven,” a lamentation to friends who had passed away. The recurring theme of the cycle of life opened every scene, and featured moving passages both in the original language of movement as well as in its expression and execution. Particularly memorable was the duet by Anthony Savoy and Frederick Davis.

The momentum was maintained with the final work, Robert Garland’s “Return,” which provided a mix of jazz dance and ballet – something between folksy, rough and sensual, and a classical ballet with clear lines. It was a fascinating combination: the inward-looking along with difficult technical performance on the toes, as well as a mix of the freely moving male body responding to the pop and soul music beat with pirouettes in the air.

If we overlook the first piece by Ailey (even though I admire his work as a choreographer), I would call this a wonderful program featuring various aspects of contemporary dance in classical ballet, which was catchy and esthetically pleasing. As a program, it was a total success, almost.