The Staller Center’s main lobby was bustling with people of all ages, patiently waiting for the velvet ropes to move so that they could get to their seats to watch the Dance Theatre of Harlem perform this past Saturday, March 22 at 8 p.m..
The dance troupe made sure they did not disappoint. After two hours of watching the dancers move with elegant fluidity, the sold-out crowd of over 1,000 guests gave a standing ovation.
The admission price was set to $40 and allowed event goers to be awed as they watched the renowned “first black ballet dance company” move their long, lean bodies with impeccable timing to the various genres of music. But what was even more amazing was how the dancers were able to emit emotion not only in their face, but how they were able to sustain passion in their body movement until the final minutes.
“I definitely enjoyed the ending more than the beginning,” resident of Coram, NY Marlynn Chetkof, 72, said.
Chetkof, who sat next to me while she and her group of friends attended the event that they had paid for at the beginning of the Staller event season, voiced their opinions during the two intermissions that broke up the second and third, and third and fourth acts.
Questions arose as to what they believed to be the meaning or just wondering what the acts were even about. The most confusion arose from an act was entitled “Far But Close,” which comprised of spoken word and music from Daniel Bernard Roumain.
This act depicted a “black woman meeting a black man on the subway,” and how she had walls surrounding her heart from letting any man love her because of a terrible experience with her father and other male figures in her life. “Far but close, liking not loving,” said the woman’s voice speaking to the audience through the surround sound.
After reading the pamphlets, which were handed out before the performances had started, Chetkof was able to understand some of the artistic themes being portrayed through the graceful moves of the dancers, but when she wants to relax and watch entertainment, she does not want to “think more than necessary.”
Four dancers were on stage, but the story for this act was about a single man and a woman. Unless you referred back to the pamphlet, it was difficult to understand the other two people were the alter ego’s and how significant it was to show them because it was how the main dancers actually felt inside. The premier danseur and prima ballerina moved in and out of the shadows constantly, while the alter egos paraded across the stage with smiles on their face in utter glee.
Robert Garland, resident choreographer for Dance Theatre of Harlem, wanted the audience to leave with the idea that “classical arts are for anyone that can ‘hit the high C’” as Arthur Mitchell, founder and artistic director emeritus for the Dance Theatre of Harlem, used to say.
Garland said that long, daily rehearsal hours are needed, especially because these pieces are performed on a national stage. However, every performance is treated as “if it’s opening night.”
The Dance Theatre of Harlem has been continuing to pursue greatness since it’s creation over 44 years ago in 1969. With their hard work and national recognition various foundations and grants, like the Arts Grant and Harlem Dance Works 2.0, an initiative made possible through a grant in 2010 called the Rockefeller Foundation for “Far But Close,” make the artistic ideas come alive on stage.
18 dancers took the stage to inspire their audience, and as the purple curtain fell to conclude the night, it showed how this organization is still striving to allow minorities to study and excel in classical dance, just like Mitchell had wanted.