ARTHUR MITCHELL and his Dance Theater of Harlem are looking better than ever during their current run at the Kennedy Center Opera House. They've managed to put their distinctive stamp on the classical ballet repertoire, as well as on the sleek and streamlined works of George Balanchine, wholeheartedly American dances such as Jerome Robbins' "Fancy Free," and contemporary offerings of all sorts.
Among the highlights of the company's final five programs here are four widely contrasting works.
For those who like their dancing dramatic, there's the steamy, stormy "A Streetcar Named Desire," choreographer Valerie Bettis' melodramatic interpretation of Tennessee Williams' landmark play. "Stars and Stripes," Balanchine's endearing tribute to the red, white and blue, combines tutus and toeshoes with John Philip Sousa's music, baton twirling and precision drills.
Geoffrey Holder's "Dougla" digs exotically into the voodoo ceremony, while John Taras' version of the "Firebird" is a veritable orgy of color, light and alternately lush and frenzied movement.
Which brings us to the Harlem dancers. With her exquisite line and kinetic electricity, Stephanie Dabney is the Firebird. Virginia Jackson and Lowell Smith bring the characters of Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski to vivid life, she all fluttery and increasingly disturbed, he a most brutish presence. "Stars and Stripes" boasts a virtuosic and charming Judy Tyrus as the Liberty Bell, Eddie J. Shellman as her dashing partner, Joseph Cipolla as the alert and rubber-legged leader of the male regiment, and generally marvelous work by the entire 41-member ensemble. The ensemble stars again in the ritualistic "Dougla."