The New DTH

The company looks ahead to its second season back.
Published in the December 2013/January 2014 issue.


Photography by Quinn Wharton



When Dance Theatre of Harlem made its comeback last April at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the company and its admirers exhaled a collective sigh of relief. “Having that behind us gives us a level of confidence,” says DTH artistic director Virginia Johnson. The company broke even with the New York engagement, and went on to tour from Maryland to Izmir, Turkey. Johnson views their second season as “a time to solidify, to refine, to build the amplitude.”

To bolster the repertoire and nurture DTH’s 18 dancers, Johnson is adding three ballets: Ulysses Dove’s Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven, which, Johnson says, “will require the dancers to reach a higher technical level and also to get inside a work”; Thaddeus and Tanya Wideman-Davis’ past-carry-forward, a ballet about the persistence of the Harlem Renaissance; and Frederic Franklin’s version of Petipa’s Pas de Dix. “These are not works for a black audience or a white audience,” says Johnson. “They’re for an audience that needs to know who we are as Americans.”

As the company moves forward, there are still some hurdles. Fundraising remains tough in a fragile economy. There is also the challenge of developing dancers of color, especially keeping them engaged through adolescence when they start thinking about becoming professionals. Nonetheless, DTH has an impressive tour schedule ahead: 15 weeks have already been scheduled. And its second season at Jazz at Lincoln Center in Manhattan runs April 23–27, 2014.

 

Gabrielle Salvatto in rehearsal

“At heart, we are a classical company. We use that vocabulary in a particular way, in many different styles.” —Virginia Johnson, artistic director. (Alexandra Jacob in class)

“The dancers are feeling that they can make something happen themselves, that they own their growth as artists.” —Virginia Johnson (Jenelle Figgins and Jehbreal Muhammad Jackson in rehearsal)

Ashley Murphy gets ready for class

Thaddeus Davis watches the dancers rehearse "past-carry-forward."

Class starts the day, but most company members come early to warm up.

Emiko Flanagan in rehearsal

Virginia Johnson: “That first New York season was a trial by fire. But performing here is who we are, part of our DNA. We need to bring the New York audience something worth watching.”