Dance Theatre of Harlem brings something classic, something new to Portland

When they return to Portland for the first time since their heyday in the 1980s, you can expect the Dance Theatre of Harlem to bring fearless young dancers with them for their two-night run Tuesday and Wednesday at the Schnitz.

The company’s repertoire, newly revived in New York last week, includes plenty of neoclassical influences, including modern stagings of Balanchine’s “Agon” and “Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux” in the New York shows and Robert Garland’s “New Bach” on tour. Their stop in Portland will include an even mix of Dance Theatre’s past hits and newer, immersive work.

The program speaks to the company’s history, its well-known triumphs as well as the tragedies adjacent to its long and historic run. Adored for more than 40 years as the classical company that broke crucial boundaries in American ballet, DTH suddenly lost its funding in 2004.

The company returned to the stage, a bit shaky, only two years ago. One of its founding directors, Karel Shook, died young, in 1985, as did Ulysses Dove, a former Alvin Ailey principle and beloved chorographer featured in the company’s previous Portland run.

Founding the company with Shook in 1969, Arthur Mitchell started a school for ballet in Harlem. His influence, first as a principle at the New York City Ballet in the 1950s, and then with his own company, broke discrimination boundaries in America and South Africa, and Mitchell became internationally known for innovative stagings of the classics.

Now under the directorship of Virginia Johnson, a former founding member and principal dancer in the company, DTH has undertaken a fresh start with old and new audiences.

Garland’s understated and lovely “New Bach” is due to start the Portland show, which is presented by White Bird. It’s followed by the emotional “In the Mirror of Her Mind,” choreographed by Christopher Huggins as a creative showcase for the female dancer.

A highlight in the evening will be Dove’s challenging and heartbreaking “Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven,” a meditation on loss created for the Swedish Ballet only a few years before Dove’s own untimely passing.

For the finale, DTH livens things up with Darrell Grand Moultrie’s “Vessels,” a new piece that’s a little more pop than the company’s standard repertoire, with strong angles and lively interchanges.

The program seems ideally suited to honor DTH’s past and to give some insight into what the future holds. And if the company’s young dancers, many of whom are now entering their prime, are any indication, the possibilities are intriguing.

— Celina Russell for The Oregonian/OregonLive


Dance Theatre of Harlem

When: 7:30 P.M. Tues-Wed, April 21-22

Where: Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 S.W. Broadway

Tickets: Starting at $26, or Portland’5 box office, 1111 S.W. Broadway

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