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Dance Theatre of Harlem Debuts Its New Company at Frederick P. Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center

- Onstage with the Dancers
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Dance Theatre of Harlem

Founders: Arthur Mitchell, Karel Shook
Artistic Director: Virginia Johnson
Executive Director: Laveen Naidu
Ballet Master: Keith Saunders
General Manager: Elizabeth Englund
Artistic Director Emeritus: Arthur Mitchell
Press: Gilda Squire Media Relations

Dance Artists:
Michaela DePrince, Chyrstyn Fentroy, Jenelle Figgins
Emiko Flanagan, Alexandra Jacob, Ashley Murphy
Lindsey Pitts, Gabrielle Salvato, Ingrid Silva, Stephanie Rae Williams
Fredrick Davis, Da’ Von Doane, Taurean Green, Jehbreal Jackson
Dustin James, Francis Lawrence, Anthony Savoy, Samuel Wilson

Rose Theater
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s
Frederick P. Rose Hall
Broadway at 60th Street

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 11, 2013

Agon (1957): Choreography by George Balanchine, Music by Igor Stravinsky, Staging for DTH by Richard Tanner, Lighting by Peter D. Leonard, Performed by the Company.

It was thrilling to see Dance Theatre of Harlem in its new incarnation, having been offstage for many years. Now, with Virginia Johnson in the leadership role, she opened the program with Balanchine’s atonal, percussiveAgon, a 1957 work that, at its Premiere, featured Arthur Mitchell in the Pas de Deux. Mr. Mitchell is Founder of Dance Theatre of Harlem, and now its Artistic Director Emeritus. It was brave of Ms. Johnson to mount an iconic Balanchine ballet, well known to the New York ballet community, with a Company that’s newly back onstage. But, wonderfully, we saw a fast-paced, tightly synchronized ensemble in energized flashes of stunning imagery. Balanchine’s works are seen during three ballet seasons each year, and balletomanes have come to expect mastery. Here, this ensemble piece was presented with edge, dynamism, and an air of freshness. The work is divided into various French styled 17th Century dance motifs, with Pas de Quatre, Double Pas de Quatre, Triple Pas de Quatre, two Pas de Trois, the second with a solo, and one Pas de Deux.

Michaela DePrince and Jenelle Figgins exuded extra muscularity in the Gaillard, a Pas de Deux in the First Pas de Trois. They caught my eye throughout. Ms. DePrince has been in the news of late, with her stirring, impressive background story, and this is one rising star I look forward to seeing onstage again soon. This young dancer has passion and skill. In “Bransle Gay”, a solo in the Second Pas de Trois, Ashley Murphy was focused and syncopated with Stravinsky’s compelling score. The simple black-white costumes allowed these joyous dancers to be seen in an uncluttered image, no sets, no design. Gabrielle Salvato and Fredrick Davis danced the iconic Pas de Deux with sinuous interconnections. I did wish they had more chemistry, but this emotional quality will grow, as the Company continues in its rejuvenation.

Swan Lake, Act III Pas de Deux (1895): Staging for DTH Anna-Marie Holmes after Marius Petipa and Nicholas Sergeyev, Music by Pyotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, Costumes Courtesy of Boston Ballet, Lighting by Peter D. Leonard, Performed by Chyrstyn Fentroy and Da’ Von Doane.

The Act III Pas de Deux of Swan Lake, another staple of the New York balletomane repertory, was a bold choice for Virginia Johnson in this debut of the new Company. Chyrstyn Fentroy and Da’ Von Doane danced the Black Swan and Siegfried with ingénue verve. Ms. Fentroy’s arms resembled rippling wings, as she tries to seduce her partner away from his White Swan devotion, with the level of drama so inherent in this piece. Also, in the requisite 32 fouettés, Ms. Fentroy was almost as balanced as the pros. These are youthful, developing dancers in a small Company, and I look forward to seeing them grow even more through this and other Pas de Deux in future years. Mr. Von Doane was quite propulsive and dynamic in his leaps and spinning turns. Kudos to this young duo for their courageous performance.

Far But Close (2012): Choreography by John Alleyne, Text by Daniel Beaty, Music by Daniel Bernard Roumain, Costumes by Emilio Sosa, Lighting by Gerald King, Asst. to the Choreographer: Kellye A. Saunders, Performed by Ashley Murphy, Stephanie Rae Williams, Da’ Von Doane, Jehbreal Jackson, with Daniel Bernard Roumain on Piano and Violin, Dana Leong on Cello, Daniel Beaty as Vocal Man, Nicole Lewis as Vocal Women.

With accompanying cello, violin, piano, and two vocalists on spoken words, this 2012 work seemed magnetic on many levels. The musicians and speakers were in a dimly lit backdrop, while the dancers moved to the Daniel Beaty text, of cautious relationships and unsettling pressures. There was spoken seduction and choreography that fights gravity and balance. This contemporary ballet by John Alleyne would be superb on a smaller stage to feel the heat and chemistry. However, Ashley Murphy and Stephanie Rae Williams, as two women in conflicted emotion, were especially lovely to observe. Their lightness of motion and interpretive dynamics were compelling. When Mr. Von Doane, in blue shorts and shirt, lifted Ms. Murphy, in a pink leotard, there was audible audience rapture. Jehbreal Jackson, as well, danced with presence and feeling.

Return (1999): Choreography by Robert Garland, Music by James Brown, Alfred Ellis, Aretha Franklin, and Carolyn Franklin, Costume Design and Execution by Pamela Allen Cummings, and Lighting by Roma Flowers, Performed by the Company..

This jazzy work, with the Company in Pamela Allen’s bikini-skirted costumes (women) and navy blue unitards (men), brought the Company out to a score by James Brown, Alfred Ellis, Aretha Franklin, and Carolyn Franklin. Michaela DePrince returned onstage for “Mother Popcorn”, with an ensemble of five female dancers, while Taurean Green led five male dancers. This 1999 piece, by Robert Garland, was a fitting finale for an important debut. Mr. Green also led the Company with his solo, in “Superbad”. Stephanie Rae Williams and Anthony Savoy led “Baby, Baby, Baby”, and Samuel Wilson, Michaela DePrince, and Dustin James led “I Got the Feelin’”. With fused classical and contemporary technique, style, and affect, this is a ballet that should be seen again soon.

Kudos to Virginia Johnson, Arthur Mitchell, and the entire Dance Theatre of Harlem for their rousing return to the New York dance stage.

Ashley Murphy and Da' Von Doane
in John Alleyne's "Far but Close"
Courtesy of Rachel Neville

Dance Theatre of Harlem
in Robert Garland's "Return"
Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at