Dance Theatre of Harlem completed its New York season this week with four performances at City Center. The short City Center season featured several works by female choreographers in a program that spanned classical and contemporary genres.
Divertimento, a new work by Elena Kunikova, is a classical piece set to music by Mikhail Glinka. Divertimento consists of standard ballet steps common in numerous Petipa works. Although the piece doesn’t break any new ground and is filled with ballet clichés, it is entertaining and successful in showing off the talents of DTH dancers, consisting of three couples with revolving pas de deux, solos, and ensemble dances. In addition to summarizing basic classical ballet movements, it has lighthearted flourishes such as steps from the Little Swans pas de trois from Swan Lake.
The work highlighted DTH’s improvement in the classics over the past several years; previous performances revealed technical shortcomings (bent legs, feet not pointed, lack of turnout) not up to the standards of a high level company. Divertimento was much tighter technically, at a higher level than what I have seen previously, with ensemble work generally in unison. However, there is room for improvement as the men’s double tours were lacking on several occasions along with a few other flaws.
Divertimento featured powerful dancing from Da’ Von Doane, named to Dance Magazine’s list of 25 dancers to watch in 2014. Da’ Von has a nice line and extension as demonstrated by robust grand jetés in attitude. Notable is his commanding stage presence and musicality, in addition to his attentive and effective partnering.
His partner Saturday evening was Chyrstyn Fentroy, who made the cover of Dance Magazine as one of 25 dancers to watch in 2015. Chyrstyn’s dancing was technically very solid, filled with confidence and flair exhibited by her dazzling smile, particularly during her nicely done Italian fouettés (see photo above), a treacherous step for women. Dylan Santos, previously a finalist at the Youth America Grand Prix, also stood out with high-flying leaps filled with bravura. Australian Francis Lawrence had a nice double assemblé diagonal.
The rest of the program consisted of contemporary, ballet-based works. When Love, a 2012 work from Helen Pickett, is a sweet pas de deux consisting of two enchanted lovers set to an interesting Philip Glass score. Touchingly performed, connected by love and mutual admiration with Chyrstyn Fentroy and Jorge Andres Villarini on Friday and Stephanie Rae Williams and Da’ Von Doane on Saturday.
Change, a new work by Dianne McIntyre, is a tribute to female empowerment, “…inspired by women-Black, Brown, and Beige-who have refashioned the neighborhood, this country, the world through their vision, courage, and endurance.” The work consisted of three women (Ingrid Silva/Lindsey Croop/Nayara Lopes on Friday and Alison Stroming/Chyrstyn Fentroy/Ingrid Silva on Saturday) set to traditional African music and hymnals to taped music from the Spelman College Glee Club. The cast in each performance was energetic and exuded defiance and perseverance, particularly Ingrid Silva in several solos.
I admit that I don’t get Nacho Duato’s 1991 work Coming Together-but that doesn’t stop my from enjoying the energetic, fast paced work. It consisted of several unrelated segments set to music by Frederic Rzewski, which featured a voice over of a repeated eight sentence text drawn from a letter from a prisoner at Attica Prison, later killed in the 1971 riot.
The first part was interesting, with males in black with a letter on their chest (spelling out ‘I Think’) moving in various patterns with contemporary ballet-type steps. Women appeared later and the partnering arrangements provided more diversity. A gold curtain fell and out came three women in long flowing dresses in a sultry dance. The curtain went away with more action, including a pas de deux with two other dancers holding lights to provide illumination and later, men played catch with a ball. In the end, the black backdrop was lifted and revealed the bare wall full of pipes and infrastructure of City Center. How the segments were related is beyond me. The unrelated segments and lack of cohesion left me puzzled, not knowing how one section was linked to another.
However, I enjoyed the energy displayed in the work, coupled with creative transitions of steps, particularly from Da’ Von Doane, Anthony Savoy, and Dylan Santos. Each danced energetically in precise rhythm to the frenetic pace. It was fun, but without the high level of dancing, the work would have been a bust.
A nice feature of the Saturday performance was a tribute to black ballerinas. On stage were prominent DTH female dancers, introduced to great applause.
Unlike most companies, DTH spends most of its time away from home. Since its revival in 2012 after an eight-year hiatus due to financial difficulties, DTH is basically a touring company with a slimmed down roster of 14 dancers; the company is performing in 20 cities this season in 32 performances. It’s a shame that they can’t extend the New York season to more performances as the crowd in the two performances I attended was supportive with great enthusiasm. DTH’s model seems similar to Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet, a company with a limited number of dancers, a short home season in San Francisco, with an extensive touring calendar.
Photography Technical Notes
Thanks to DTH for allowing me to photograph its dress rehearsal. I posted a number of photos from Divertimento and Change on my photography website notmydayjobphotography.com. My equipment was a Canon 7d m2 with a Canon 70-200 2.8 IS lens mounted on a monopod. Dance photography requires high level equipment, similar to what sports photographers use due to fast-moving subjects in dim light.
Divertimento was brightly lit, so I used a shutter speed of 1/640 with ISO set at 5000. With the higher ISO, the f-stop was between 3.5-5.6. For the dimly-lit Change, I had to boost my ISO to 8000. The Canon 7d handled the higher ISO well, with reasonable grain patterns that were well controlled, particularly after using noise reduction in Lightroom. Given the white costumes in Divertimento, it was important to underexpose the setting by one stop, resulting properly exposed costumes. Not underexposing by one stop would have resulted in too much light hitting the white costumes, making it difficult to recover highlights in post-processing. As a general rule, I always underexpose my camera setting by one stop for dance photography.
The Canon 7d m2 is effective for dance photography. It has a great burst rate at 10 frames per second, allowing for capture of rapidly moving dancers, particularly in jumps. I’m still experimenting with the camera, particularly the autofocus. For DTH, I used a 4-point autofocus expansion with one active point in the center surrounding four points to assist in autofocusing (the third selection in the AF point selection menu). Previously, I used a single-point autofocus, but was not entirely satisfied. I was happy with the DTH results as most of the exposures were sharp, even in the dark Change work.
Check out my previous post on dance photography for more thoughts.