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DTH in DC?

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Did anyone else attend any of Dance Theatre of Harlem's performances in D.C.? I'd intended to post a review on the site about this company (which I generally admire) but didn't because I thought the performance opening night was so below par.

I agreed -- mostly -- with Sarah Kaufman in the Post, except that she felt the performance looked underrehearsed, while I did not. I've seen very sloppy performances of DTH's "Creole Giselle" in the past -- they're often just finishing a tour, or coming back after a lay-off -- but I didn't have a sense of that this time at all. The production had its face washed and its hair combed, as it were, but I thought it was very, very weakly danced. The peasant pas de deux boy had NO turnout and had a great deal of difficulty with the steps. He didn't look as though this were an off-night, but as though he'd been studying for about a month and a day. The Albrecht looked 45, a bit tubby, and dull as it is possible to be. The Giselle looked as though she'd rather be dancing -- and that was her attitude towards the story. All of the dancers seemed to lack elbows and knees, giving their dancing a jerky quality. It was a very studentish performance -- from a not very good school. Well beyond what DTH has done in the past.

The one bright spot for me was Carmen De Lavallade as Giselle's mother, the most ALIVE! person on the stage, and, I thought, totally "there" and understanding the production.

They looked better in the ballet moderne piece that shared the bill -- unoffensive, I thought, if not particularly interesting. Unfortunately, the comments I heard at intermission were along the lines of, "They're really so much better in the modern stuff than in ballet" -- perhaps true, but not what a ballet company wants to hear.

I knew DTH was "between generations." Several dancers I've loved -- Eddie J. Shellman, Christine Johnson, Ronald Perry -- have retired, and Alicia Graf, their young ballerina, has been out for three years with a very bad injury, and the company is always in financial crisis.

I did not go to the subsequent performances where the casting of the leads looked more promising. Did anyone else

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I went Thursday night and Sunday afternoon. I didn't write anything earlier because I was just so underwhelmed and because I had almost nothing to add to Sarah Kaufmann's review of Giselle (although I think her assessment of the Memento Mori choreography was kind).

Alexandra, I think your word "studentish" is the best description of both the Giselle and Sunday's Firebird. Actually, I kept thinking to myself Sunday that Firebird looked just like a student recital piece. Bethania Gomez, the Firebird, had the body of a 12-year-old and danced like a 12-year-old (albeit a talented one). The other dancers were just dull. Admittedly, most of the audience was more impressed than I; they gave Firebird a standing ovation.

I hated Adrian (Angel on Earth) at first. The costumes were unflattering (the men wore these floppy frock coats and floppy bell bottom pants) and I didn't see that the choreography interpreted the music at all. Of course, it didn't help that I hated the music and that one of the pianos seemed to be either out of tune or incredibly poorly played. The piece did grow on me as it went along, however (although I wouldn't go out of my way to see it again). The "corps" parts were more interesting and the work as a whole was quite well danced.

I liked Return more than I did last year. This is the "ballet" danced to James Brown, Aretha Franklin, et alia. The dancers seemed more comfortable with the choreography this time around, but they just don't have the attitude to really pull this one off.

The one highlight of the two programs was Ramon Thielen. Why DTH didn't cast him as Albrecht or the "Young Man" in the Firebird is beyond me. Yes, I know he's too animalistic to be a "prince" type, but he's certainly far more magnetic and interesting to watch than Duncan Cooper, who seemed to be sleepwalking through his performances.

[ 05-29-2001: Message edited by: The Bard's Ballerina ]

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I was very disappointed with DTH when I saw them perform at City Center in New York last September. I thought their dancing was weak, especially in "Creole Giselle Act II." (DTH only performed the second act of "Giselle" at City Center.) I decided after that performance not to see another DTH performance (at least until I've read on this site that they've improved radically). It's really such a shame because they were such a good company in the late 1970 and early 1980's.

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