By Walter Rutledge
The third studio showing of works in progress for the Dance 2.0 Series was on many levels a nostalgic look into the future. Artistic Director Virginia Johnson charged choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie with the task of creating a work that embodied the spirit of Arthur Mitchell’s pas de duex The Greatest. Mitchell’s ballet is an inspirational duet set to the music of George Benson; Moultrie was asked to create a contemporary ballet work to popular music.
On Thursday October 28 Harlem native Moultrie presented an excerpt from his work in progress featuring former American Ballet principal dancer Ashley Tuttle and former Dance Theatre of Harlem principal dancer Duncan Cooper. The excerpt was set to the Yolanda Adams rendition of the 90’s anthem I Believe I Can Fly. The performance space had been changed to the second floor studio to accommodate the ever-increasing audience, but even in the larger space it was standing room only. The event drew a varied audience consisting of both dance enthusiasts and curious neighbors from the Harlem community.
The second floor studio has a special significant because this was the space that had been used by the company under the direction of founder Mitchell. For anyone who had ever seen a company rehearsal/ class in this space it was truly inspiring. Dancers of all shades and hues of brown assembled in an almost Degas-que motif with Mitchell at the helm (a la Enrico Cecchetti). Part omniscient director, and part pride parent, he always lead by example; demanding no less than the dancer’s best effort.
The work Moultrie is crafting lives up to the expectation of Artistic Director Johnson. The riveting Adams vocals, recognizable lyrics and exciting choreography moved both the balletomane and dance novice. The work combined two distinct and iconic genres; European ballet and American gospel/ pop music.
Moultrie has chosen to skillfully tell the story through the message of the lyrics. He does this with an honesty that defies literal interpretation, thus staying true to the choreographic intent. The choreography has a freedom that transcends the challenging technical demands of the work.
Tuttle and Cooper are both consummate professionals. They approached the rehearsal almost surgically, more like artistic tacticians than mere dancers. This approached allowed them to work out the rigors of the demanding choreography, and deliver a performance that was free and unencumbered.
Moultrie is the third and final choreographer to present a works in progress. On November 4 two of the three choreographers will premiere the completed works. Robert Garland’s work will not be shown, because his dancer American Ballet Theatre soloist Misty Copeland will be performing with the company in Cuba. To attend the final performance in the series you must reserve seating at RSVP@dancetheatreofharlem.org.
Video by Jamar Carr