In some ways, the Dance Theatre of Harlem's second program at the Kennedy Center Opera House Last night was even more impressive than the first. Like the first, last night's bill contained the company's smashing new revival of Fokine's "Scheherazade" (with Frederic Franklin, who staged it, in a surprise repeat of his guest appearance as the Chief Eunuch), and also a Balachine masterpiece, in this case, "The Four Temperaments." The third ballet, However, was DTH co-director Arthur Mitchell's own tour de force on the Garden of Eden, "Manifestations," a far more substantial and compelling work than Tuesday evening's facile "Mirage." The dancing, too, was, on the whole, more consistently electrifying.
The performance of the immensely taxing "Four Temperaments" was remarkably good, the rhythms cut with razor edge, each phrase and shape meticulously defined. It made one more conscious than ever of the amazing stretch and strength of these DTH dancers, of the extraordinary extension of women like Theara Ward, Karen Brown and Lorraine Graves, of the mercurial snap of men like Eddie Shellman and Lowell Smith. Elena Carter, who reminds one of Suzanne Farrell both in her contour and the generosity of her movement, was especially striking in the "Sanguinic" variation.
Yet there was something odd about the performance. In 1946, "Four Temperaments" startled everyone with Balanchine's radical "distortions" of academic steps and poses; when the New York City Ballet, with its deeply ingrained classical base, performs it today, it still has the look of a violent wrenching of tradition. Despite the rigors of its classical deportment, however, the DTH last night made all those flexed feet, broken wrists and thrust hips look tamely "normal" -- somehow, the sense of eccentricity seemed absent.
Perhaps it's a matter of psychology, and the DTH starting point: In the broadly eclectic repertoire the DTH dancers are called upon to master and display, such "distortions" are the norm, more often than not -- they've become the colloquialisms of contemporary ballet. All this was most apparent, perhaps, in Mel Tomlinson's "Phlegmatic" variation, which was expertly danced but had little of the spooky effect one expects here.
Tomlinson was superb, however, as the serpent in the startlingly pungent and erotic "Manifestations," from his first dangling, inverted entrance to his final tortured writhings. Matching him fully in expressive intensity were Lowell Smith as a reluctantly sinning Adam, and Stephanie Baxter as a potently seductive Eve.