Dance Theatre of Harlem at Auditorium Theatre Review – Classic Ballet with a Pinch of Soul

 

Until the evening finale “Return” using music by James Brown and Aretha Franklin, there was nothing especially African-American about Dance Theatre of Harlem.  This was a most classic of classic ballet performance, where perfection of line, grace on toe and bounding jetés carried the day masterfully. 

 

The program notes indicated that the first piece, “Gloria”, set to the music of Poulenc was indeed a tribute to Harlem Renaissance greats and other cultural contributors from the Harlem scene. 

 

 

Not reading that program note, however, would not deter you from enjoying the beauty of these short vignettes with very effective use of different lighting for different movements.  (Lighting:  Roma Flowers.)  As a welcome to the Chicago crowd in Auditorium Theatre, “Gloria” seemed to say, “Come in from the cold now and have a long warming drink of beauty.”  It was a wonderful opener that showcased the strength of the ensemble as a whole before solo talent was put in the spotlight. 

 

 

As this video snippet of “Gloria” shows, at some moments it was angular arms defining the dancers’ stance, while at others they were undulating bodies effecting flow. 

 

 

Special mention should be made of the Chicago Multicultural Dance Center Students—these were young girls all doing their parts perfectly and with beaming smiles that just screamed “adorable!”. 

 

“Dancing on the Porch of Heaven – Odes to Love and Loss” was originally choreographed by Ulysses Dove for the Royal Swedish Ballet in 1993.  The fast and sometime quirky dance moves were juxtaposed to the slow music by Arvo Pärt, “Cantus in the Memory of Benjamin Britten, 1977” and intermittent silences.  The glowing white leotards of the dancers added to the effects of their ensemble work sometimes seeming like a kaleidoscope.  The pairings in this piece were especially engaging as we watched duos create improbable angles as teams, especially when two men danced together.

 

 

And then came the apparent crowd pleaser, “Return”.  This is where the touch of soul came in to remind us that this is not just any old dance theater, but one that hails from Harlem.  Here is a snippet-

 

 

It was all beautifully danced, with seamless moves from long extensions of classic ballet to rolling hips.  When a solo female dancer moves from man to man to the lyrics of Aretha Franklin singing “I love you, and I love you and I love you too”, the crowd tittered with delight. 

 

Originally founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell, Dance Theater of Harlem not only provides performances showcasing very talented dancers as at the Auditorium Theatre, but it has spearheaded community engagement programs that are a model of using the arts to bring about transformative change.  

 

Auditorium Theatre, now celebrating its 125th year, has a strong commitment to bringing the best dance troupes in the world to its stages.  This year Dance Theatre of Harlem will be doing additional performances on November 22 and 23.  Also look for Dance Theatre of Harlem to make a return in the coming years.

 

For more information on upcoming Auditorium Theatre performances—dance and beyond—call 312 341 2357 or visit the Auditorium Theatre web pages (www.auditoriumtheatre.org ).

 

Auditorium Theatre

50 East Congress Parkway, Chicago

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