Dougla Revival Highlights Dance Theatre of Harlem at City Center

The Dance Theatre of Harlem New York season took place last week over the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Vision Gala last Wednesday commemorated the anniversary, reflecting on the legacy of Dr. King and his impact on the founding of DTH. Arthur Mitchell, then a Principal Dancer at New York City Ballet, took the tragedy as a call to action to form the company in 1969 to become a touring company, training school, and arts education program with a global presence.

The DTH New York City Center season is always too short with only four performances. On the bill were DTH New York premiers of Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie, Christopher Wheeldon’s This Bitter Earth, Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Harlem on My Mind, and a company revival of Geoffrey Holder’s Dougla. (I posted photos on my photography website notmydayjobphotography.com. Thanks to DTH for allowing me to photograph two dress rehearsals.)

Holder’s 1974 Dougla was the highlight of the Friday performance. Holder was an actor, dancer, choreographer, singer, director, and painter who died in 2014 (this video of Holder in 7-Up commercials from the 1970s takes me back to my childhood). He created several works for DTH including Dougla, a dance inspired by wedding ceremonies of a Dougla couple-a mixed couple in which one partner is of African and the other of Indian descent. DTH last performed Dougla in 2004. As described in The New York Times, the restaging for the City Center season was a team effort, consisting of Holder’s widow Carmen de Lavallade and son Leo Holder, Charmaine Hunter, Kellye Saunders, Keith Saunders, and Donald Williams.

The work is fast paced, a wild kaleidoscope of movement to live throbbing music from multiple drummers and flutists. The work opens with men and women in long flowing white skirts with red tassels with men bare-chested and women in tight skin colored tops. Men strut while women preen in a sort of ritualistic match-making ceremony. A constant throughout is a finger wag between the men and women; basically “Don’t mess with me” which added a dramatic, somewhat comical touch. A mysterious Woman in Green makes an appearance with six men in flowing red skirts. Later, three Women in Black entertain, weaving in and out of the action.

The groom (Anthony Santos) and bride (Ingrid Silva) meet as they are ceremoniously carried on stage. The groom drops the skirt, revealing a skin colored dance belt with red tassels. Anthony gave a nice solo filled with jetés and high leaps. Later, acrobats entertain in minimalist attire. My favorite is a pas de deux with two men (I can’t recall their names). Same sex partnering is getting much attention these days, although I have not seen much that I find entertaining. In addition to being ahead of his time with men dancing together, Holder produced a pas de deux worth watching.

Dougla ended with festive dancing from the cast. All left the stage except for the Stickman (Choong Hoon Lee) who pounded the floor with his stick to end the festivities. What followed were the most entertaining bows I’ve seen, a continuation of the show. The Stickman led dancers on stage, who bowed with a unique head shake resembling a hyperactive bobble head doll.

The beautiful costumes, originally by Zelda Wynn with reconstruction by Vernon Ross and Pamela Cummings, added much to the uplifting work.

Dance Theatre of Harlem, Harlem on My Mind and Dougla

Harlem on My Mind. Click for more photos.

Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Harlem on My Mind (2017) is set to jazz music from 11 artists. The work is Moultrie’s tribute to his music teacher, recognizing the history of Harlem. The work consists of five joyful and energetic segments. Highlights were Anthony Santos’ Harlem Finest solo in which strutted around the stage, full of himself in complete confidence. The long-limbed Santos covered the stage with gusto with great extension, demonstrating ample flexibility in his jazz/ballet movements. Ingrid Silva in the Soul of the ‘Hood solo showed nice energy and a beaming smile.

Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie had its debut in 1953 at City Center. Alison Stroming and Da’Von Doane were the leads in this charming short work; their dancing was generally fine, except for a few rough edges in the partnering sections. The supporting cast of four women were in synch to the flowing Mikhal Glinka score. Christopher Weldon’s This Bitter Earth rounded out the program with Crystal Serrano and Jorge Andrés Villarini.