By virtue of higher purposes, some performance events transcend their particulars, however fine they may be. Such was the case with the concert by the Dance Institute of Washington at Lisner Auditorium last night. It was a testimonial both to the talent and dedication of the participating student dancers of our city and to the expertise and selfless commitment of the seasoned artists who trained and coached them.
The Dance Institute is the brainchild of Dance Theatre of Harlem member Fabian Barnes, who is taking a leaf from the book of DTH Director Arthur Mitchell by giving something back to the community for the artistic riches that came his way.
The Dance Institute is a training program for promising Washington youngsters -- this year, 17 in number ranging from 16 to 21 years of age -- led by Barnes and companion artists from DTH (including associate Dance Institute director Dean Anderson) and the faculty of New York's Alvin Ailey school. In addition, for the concert Barnes recruited three DTH principal dancers (Kellye Gordon, Donald Williams and Lisa Attles), five other present and former DTH dancers, and a cadre of guest choreographers from New York and Newark.
The program traversed a gamut of choreographic styles and musical support. The offerings fell into two divisions -- a segment featuring classical ballet, and a sequel prevailingly in an Afro-modern mode. Half of the program's eight items were danced by the guest professionals, who not only graced the evening with their polish and facility, but also served as on-site role models for the Dance Institute students. In the finale -- Anderson's "Melt Down," a peppery showcase for the whole institute entourage -- the pros and the students shared the stage in fruitful cooperation.
The ballet portion began with etudes for the students by Barnes and Tassia Hooks. It concluded with Barnes's "Allegro Virtuoso," incisively danced by guest Adrienne Thorne-Martin, and the "Corsaire" pas de deux, set forth in brilliant and admirably unjaded fashion by Gordon and Williams.
The most ambitious piece for the students was the eight-part "In This Land," choreographed by Ailey faculty member Tyrone Aiken, evoking a spectrum of moods from the opening and closing "Peace" to the stylized militancy of "War," with sundry stops in between. Two soloists were outstanding in this performance -- Kyra Little, poignant and compelling in a tour-de-force dance monologue on the theme of despair, and fervent Brandye Lee in the passage called "Rebirth."
There followed two impressive solos danced by guest artists: Ray Tadio's "Ne," a life-cycle vignette given a splendidly slithery and intense interpretation by Dennis Lue; and Alfred Gallman's "Mother's Prayer," set to a Mahalia Jackson recording of "Rock of Ages," which Lisa Attles made into a model of wrenching expressivity. "Melt Down" led the evening to its sizzling close.
The choreography for the students was mostly of the ad-hoc variety, tailored to the dancers' varying technical and stylistic capacities, and intended as much to instruct as to entertain. Of its kind, however, it was admirably free of cliches, and effectively served its principal aim -- to give the students, and the audience, an object lesson in the discipline, harmony and eloquence that dance can incarnate.