Chicago Dance Review: DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM (Auditorium Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on November 22, 2014

in Theater-Chicago,Tours

PERFECT PLACEMENT AND PERPETUAL MOTION

Making a too-brief, always welcome return to Chicago’s gorgeous Auditorium Theatre (now celebrating its 125th anniversary), Dance Theatre of Harlem never looked more awesomely athletic, devotedly disciplined or able, as much as eager to please. Closing tomorrow, their three-ballet program, a feat for the limbs and a feast for the eyes, splendidly showcases the incredible range of these young and very purposeful dancers and the literally sweeping imagination of choreographers Robert Garland and the late Ulysses Dove.

Dance Theater of Harlem in Robert Garland’s GLORIA. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Garland’s 2012 “Gloria,” set to a soaring score by Francis Poulenc, exalts the ensemble from start to finish. Both refined and rapid-paced, supple and swift, the six-part creation provides opportunities for dynamic duets, fluid pairings with hands held high to heaven, and a silhouette that turns the dancers into a final frieze.

Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Davon Doane in Robert Garland’s GLORIA. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

It features eight very game girls from the Chicago Multicultural Dance Center, as happy to be there as we were to share their joy. Dedicated to the Abyssinian Baptist Church, the work testifies to the spiritual legacy of Harlem, its own ongoing renaissance.

Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Ashley Murphy in Robert Garland’s GLORIA. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Mourning the loss of 13 close friends and relatives, Dove gives his 1993 “Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven: Odes to Love and Loss” a jagged intensity to reflect the moody range of Arvo Pärt’s 1977 Cantus In Memory of Benjamin Britten. Six performers, clad in bright white, engage in this moving memorial, creating circles of silence, disappearing into darkness, succumbing to angst-ridden dread, epoxy-like clinging, or rapid reversals of movement and tone.

Dance Theater of Harlem in Ulysees Doves DANCING ON THE FRONT PORCH OF HEAVEN. Photo by Rachel Neville.

A very passionate duet between two men becomes a kind of rescue or recovery effort against a death that will divide them. This spartan work uses quiet as much as music—or a series of steady chimes—to convey all kinds of passages and passings.

Dance Theater of Harlem's Da' Von Doane and Ashley Murphy in Ulysees Doves DANCING ON THE FRONT PORCH OF HEAVEN. Photo by Rachel Neville.

Finally, the crowd-pleasing ”Return,” Garland’s clever combination of classical movement and soul music—ballet and bounce—takes five songs by Aretha Franklin and James Brown and mashes it up with bump dances, “Cabbage Patch” funkiness, spinning tops, arms-encircled duos, sudden snapshots as the dancers freeze, and runway attitude that’s sexy in so many styles. Whether as striking silhouettes or strutting, sassy limelight-seekers, the lovely ensemble own this work.

Dance Theatre of Harlem in Robert Garland’s RETURN. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

It’s rare and wondrous to see leaps and lifts so perfectly executed and coordinated: What’s ravishing enough as an individual move becomes rapture when reproduced and repeated. Da’von Doane’s hunky solo to “Superbad” was just that. There’s even a hint of break dancing just to show off skills we never doubted for a moment.

Dance Theatre of Harlem acquit themselves in glory.

Dance Theater of Harlem in Robert Garland’s GLORIA - photo by Matthew Murphy.photos by Rachel Neville and Matthew Murphy

Dance Theatre of Harlem
Auditorium Theatre, 50 E Congress Pkwy
scheduled to end on November 23, 2014
for tickets, call 800.982.2787
or visit www.AuditoriumTheatre.org
for more info, visit Dance Theatre of Harlem

for more info on Chicago Theater,
visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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