Theatrical performance increasingly takes the place of sacred ritual in the modern world. As our traditional sacred spaces lose their ability to exalt people and help us celebrate our common humanity, we look to our theaters and artists for direction. Geoffrey Holder’s Dougla is one of those hybrid dances that is more sacred celebration than performance. Like it always happens when watching Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, the audience became an ad hoc congregation. Drawing inspiration from the fusion of Trinidadian Indians and Africans, Holder created a rousing piece for the Dance Theater of Harlem that speaks with spiritual authority and the revival of the 1974 work was a huge hit. Anthony Santos served as something of a shaman, leading what amounts to a series of processionals that vibrated with power. The women were costumed in traditional Indian garb with an Islands flair while the men were attired in African tribal wear. Their bouncing scarlet pompoms lent an avian quality to the dancing that enhanced the ritual nature of the work. It’s one of those rare pieces that everyone should see.

DTH in <i>Dougla</i> © Rachel Nevill
DTH in Dougla
© Rachel Nevill

Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie was cleanly rendered by lead couple, Alison Stroming and Da’von Doane. It’s a small ballet, now a program filler, that’s more about beautiful movement than technical brilliance and no dancer in this cast did that better than Alicia Mae Holloway. Every time she caught my eye, I was filled with the calm pleasure that comes from watching a dancer effortlessly move through the balancés that are at the heart of the waltz. I’d like to see what Holloway could do in that lead spot. Less moving was Christopher Wheeldon’s This Bitter Earth. When I close my eyes and listen to the resonant combination of Dinah Washington’s vocals and Max Richter’s music, Wheeldon’s choreography is not the pas de deux that I imagine. Stephanie Rae Williams and Choon Hoon Lee danced this pas de deux with sumptuous grace but I was still left dissatisfied. Wheeldon failed to elicit the degree of emotional resonance that Washington’s singing demands. Williams and Lee made the most of those few moments in the choreography that allowed the couple to have eye contact but he was relegated to lifting and supporting her most of the time. The end result was a pas de deux for one.

DTH in George Balanchine's <i>Valse Fantaisie</i> © Dave Andrews
DTH in George Balanchine's Valse Fantaisie
© Dave Andrews

Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Harlem on My Mind anchored the middle of the program and highlighted Anthony Santos’s strong technique and unerring theatrical flair. He seems to know when to engage with the audience and when to just do his thing. He was given the great solo, Ain’t Misbehavin’ which is perfectly tailored for his long-limbed, relaxed style of motion. Alison Stroming and Jorge Andrés Villarini were pure joy to see in It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing. Dylan Santos, as Soul of the ‘Hood, had problems with his solo. Set to Christ Botti’s rendition of My Funny Valentine, this solo gave the dancer so many opportunities to display control and capture Botti’s elegant phrasing. Unfortunately, Dylan didn’t seem to understand precisely how his choreography fit with the music. Where he needed to be completely still, he fidgeted and wobbled. Where he was moving in a diagonal to an extended phrase, he missed the intonations that would have made it soar. There is a lot to like about him as a dancer but he needs to work on the polish that is required to be a soloist. The ensemble dancing was mostly kitsch with a lot of Broadway-sized smiles to sell what is pretty average stuff.

It was worth the price of admission just to see Dance Theater of Harlem's ebullient revival of Geoffrey Holder’s Dougla. DTH has been through some tough times and it’s good to see them thriving. It’s even better to see the full house that will hopefully ensure the company’s survival. It fills an important place in the city’s dance scene.