The second program of the Dance Theatre of Harlem's current run at the Kennedy Center Opera House, introduced last night, had an ingenious and seemly balance to it. At either end were opposing species of classicism, one old, one contemporary.
The opener was "Paquita," with choreography attributed to Marius Petipa, as staged this season for DTH by Alexandra Danilova and Frederic Franklin--a charming 19th-century relic. The closing item was Balanchine's great "The Four Temperaments," in which the classical movement vocabulary is filtered through modern dislocations and inversions; it's long been a DTH staple.
Wedged between these two, for obvious contrast, was a curiously anomalous dramatic ballet: "Equus: The Ballet," based on Peter Shaffer's play, with choreography, direction and decor by Domy Reiter-Soffer and a score by Wilfred Josephs. It was given its premiere a few seasons ago by the Maryland Ballet, and taken up by DTH this year.
The original "Paquita" of 1846 was a full-length story ballet, a star vehicle for Carlotta Grisi (the first Giselle), with choreography by Mazilier. When Frenchman Petipa first traveled to Russia, he adapted "Paquita" for St. Petersburg, with some new music by Minkus. Only a handful of numbers have survived, in various modern adaptations.
The DTH production starts with a large waltz ensemble, followed by four solo variations and a finale, interrupted at midpoint by a pas de trois. It's a sprightly, lucid diversion and it handsomely shows off the DTH aptitude for the academic style. The dancing last night was crisp and fetching, with particularly fine contributions coming from incisive Stephanie Dabney and elegant Elena Carter--the one prominent flaw was a certain brittleness of arms that afflicted both soloists and ensemble.
The "Four Temperaments" performance was on the bland side, compared with other accounts we've seen from DTH, though Joseph Cipolla was impressively eloquent in the "Melancholic" variation, and Virginia Williams danced alluringly in "Sanguinic." By the time the magical coda rolled around, however, the momentum of the dancing seemed spent.
"Equus: The Ballet" makes even less sense than the play, which was an appallingly pretentious stew of sexual pathology and pseudo-mysticism to begin with--boy loves horse, girl seduces boy, boy blinds horse in a fit of shame. The play at least had words to elucidate this, but Reiter-Soffer's banal choreography and Josephs' mood music, though attuned to the drama's portentous atmopshere, leave the characters and their torments almost wholly unfathomable.
The DTH cast, with D'Artagnan Petty as the boy, Lowell Smith as his psychiatrist, Karyla Shelton as the girl, and Donald Williams as Nugget, the horse, performed with admirable skill and conviction, but the ballet should never have been dragged from the stables.