In introducing its second program at the Warner Theatre last night, the Dance Theatre of Harlem confirmed what was already amply evident from its opening performance Wednesday night -- that the company has graduated to a secure place among the world's principal ballet troupes. If, nevertheless, the evening was bit of a letdown compared to Wednesday, there is a real sense in which this was a sign of progress, however paradoxical that may sound. The point is that the dancers have not only bested the challenges of last night's choreography, but are clearly ready for stronger stuff that will show them off to even better advantage.
The program was praiseworthy in many respects. Carlos Carvajal's "Shapes of Evening," set to Debussy's exquisite "Sacred and Profane Dances," is a placidly lyrical study of soothingly symmetrical design. Billy Wilson's "Mirage" -- like the Carvajal, new to Washington -- is a skillfully wrought charade in a Broadway vein about amorous havoc at an urban cocktail party. Royston Maldoom's "Adagietto No. 5" is a tasteful, if facile, exercise in romantic yearning a la Mahler, and "Biosfera," by DTH director Arthur Mitchell, twists two dancers into intriguing sculptural tensions to the lean astringencies of Marlos Nobre's music.
But in all of these works, it was the dancing that commanded attention rather than the dance -- even such relative newcomers as Judy Tyrus in "Boisfera" and Julie Felix in "Mirage" verified the high standard that has become the company norm.
These dancers are an outstandingly good-looking lot, not only in the sense of being physically trim and handsome but also in their consistent beauty of carriage, precision in placement, linear elegance. Precisely for such reasons they now need dance material commensurate with the advances they've made.
The repertory on which they've accomplished this growth has also given them an extraordinary, perhaps unequaled, versatility -- they can switch, for example, from tribal contractions for classical turn-out in the blink of an eye and without visible compromise of either idiom. But by now, also, they have outgrown as simplistic a vehicle as Louis Johnson's "Force of Rhythm," a piece that is like a flashing neon sign -- it captures the eye for an instant, but they just goes on blinking its boring way. In short, the company has outstripped the purely popularizing aspects of its repertory, and requires choreography that is a match for its own range and power.