Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
Watching the Dance Theater of Harlem launching its week's engagement at the Carter Barron Amphi-theater Tuesday night made one wonder all over again why the troupe had appeared in Washington so infrequently. It's a grand looking outfit, clearly in the front rank of ballet companies of comparable size.
Though it is exceedingly youthful by ballet standards - the first performances were in 1967 - DTH has developed both an assured, cohensive ensemble and some individual dencers of impressive stature. The company had, moreover, a distinctive persona, not merely because it is a black troupe, but through its repertoire performing style and characteristic verve.
THe opening night performance, a benefit for Washington's Ebony Impromptu Theater Company, drew some 2,000 warmly appreciative spectators.
A modern and a traditional pas de deux: "Holberg Suite," a company showcase by DTH founder and co-director Arthur Mitchell: George Balanchine's abstract, neo-classic "Agon" and Geoffrey Holder's colorfully ethnic "Dougla" made up the sensibly balanced program, allowing a rounded portrait of the company's isiomatic spectrum.
"Holberg Suite" is a modest, tateful and agreeably designed ballet to Grieg's score of the same name, full matching and opposing symmetries in the Balanchine manner. It stretches the company just far enough technically to exhibit its strongest points, without pushing to ostentatious extremes. Virginia Johnson stood out in the third movement allegro work. Ronald Perry's precise beats and Melva Murray-White's sprintly legs lent just the right dash to the finale.
Most memorable of all was Lydia Abarca, who was outstanding throughout the evening. Handsomerly coupled with Stephnie Dabney, Karen Brown and Roman Brooks in the fourth movement adagio, she danced with a wonderfully gliding, lyrical quality that filled out each musical phrase. She showed the same softness and elegance of line in a "Romeo and Juliet" pas de deux with paul Russell.
Her greatest triump was the ex-acting pas de deux in "Agon," with Mel Tomlinson as her spendidly poised partner. The company misses some of the flinty angularity of this masterpiece, but gives it a very polished, sympathetic rendering nonetheless.