Homeboy Shakespeare

We accept the often irrational amalgam of drama and pure dance in the full-length classics of ballet. Parties and festivals provide pretexts for showy steps, and in the supernatural world, dancing is a modus vivendi. In Giselle, Albrecht gets to toss himself into wonderful steps because he's being made to dance himself to death. A revival of the second act of Dance Theatre of Harlem's Creole Giselle (1984), staged and directed by Frederick Franklin, orchestrates the rising tension between pleading for life and dancing up a storm. DTH's Wilis form a beautifully drilled ghostly army, and the moss-decked bayou graveyard is their parade ground. This company excels at projecting drama. Kip Sturm's Albrecht comes across as gentle, almost bemused in his mourning for Giselle. I admire his subtle acting as well as his excellent jumps, but miss the occasional burst of speed or impetuousness. You get the impression of a man so noble that he's resigned to death. As the Wili queen, Lenore Pavlakos is most impressive in her airborne passages. Kellye A. Saunders makes a sweet and tender Giselle, although her delicacy is more brittle than vaporous. Caroline Rocher and Tanya Wideman excel as two Wili lieutenants.

Memento Mori, a new ballet by company ballet master Augustus van Heerden to Peteris Vasks's Musica Dolorosa, illustrates the perilous nature of the dance-drama relationship. The ballet relates the old tale of death-as-stalker—in this case, a studly, preening, magnificently muscled virtuoso (Ramon Thielen), who dances as if the air were molasses-thick. The drama occurs when he singles out one man (Sturm) from three couples. Until this occurs, these six don't register as people, but as smiling dancers performing attractive steps in a void. Sturm doesn't die at first, but he has an Experience, and after that the others smile less but dance the same. The work becomes suspenseful mainly because Thielen keeps circling Sturm and his partner (Saunders) and because, for an enigmatic second, Sturm reenacts with her the way Thielen caught and held him.

Rennie Harris's Rome & Jewels: torn between the rules of the game and tenderness
photo: Alan Solomon
Rennie Harris's Rome & Jewels: torn between the rules of the game and tenderness


Rennie Harris Puremovement
Jacobís Pillow
Joyce Theater
September 26 through October 1

Dance Theatre of Harlem
City Center
Through September 17

Van Heerden is one of the three choreographers (Laveen Naidu and DTH's founder-director Arthur Mitchell are the other two) of last year's hit South African Suite, a work that brings ballet, African steps, and modern dance into unity in startling and often original ways. This is an irresistible piece, with terrific music by a variety of African composers, played live by the Soweto String Quartet. Among the standout performers: Bethania Gomes and James Washington; Paunika Jones, Kevin Thomas, and Leslie Anne Cardona; and those two tall beauties, Christiane Cristo and Camille Parson. Here the drama is the dancing.

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