Dec 19, 2013 View All News

Say grace

Dance Theater of Harlem


By Valerie Gladstone

Since the kickoff of the dance year in November, performances encompassing folk, tap and modern awaited NJPAC audiences, who thrilled to Forever Tango, The Apollo Theater’s Ellington at Christmas with Newark tap master Savion Glover, and Forces of Nature Dance Theatre.

What’s brewing for 2014? Even more excitement, beginning with the return of Dance Theatre of Harlem to NJPAC on Friday, Jan. 17. Inspired by the lifework of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Arthur Mitchell co-founded DTH in 1969 to give African Americans an opportunity to perform ballet. It is fitting, therefore, that the acclaimed troupe will perform in honor of King’s birthday.

“His tragic assassination propelled Mr. Mitchell to do everything he could as a ballet dancer for African Americans,” says Virginia Johnson, the company’s Artistic Director. “We focus on the same thing today – what we can do as dancers for the African-American community through our school and company. There’s new energy in the organization as we show ballet’s relevance to the African-American experience.”

On the bill are George Balanchine’s emotional Agon; Gloria, a tribute to the Harlem Renaissance by the company’s resident choreographer, Robert Garland, and past-carry-forward, a premiere by the inventive Thaddeus Davis and Tanya Wideman-Davis.

New Jersey’s Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company is the perfect troupe for welcoming the Chinese New Year – the Year of the Horse – on Jan. 25, 2014.

“We always involve the audience in our celebrations,” says Artistic Director Nai-Ni Chen. “We make them as colorful and exciting as possible, telling traditional tales and using traditional instruments. But we also try to make our performances relevant to today’s Chinese-American experience, and so also include modern, abstract works. Still, of course, with beautiful costumes and fantastic props.”

The choreographer doesn’t confine the festivities to the stage; she also has arranged to showcase the art of Chinese Americans with a lobby exhibit that audiences can view as they enter the Victoria Theater. Plus there will be a banquet to enjoy after the show. “How could we celebrate the Chinese New Year without food?” she asks. “We must also take care of the stomach.”

The season’s eclectic program moves from Chinese dance to classical ballet on Feb. 9, with a performance by one of Russia’s most illustrious companies, the 50-member State Ballet Theatre of Russia. The company will perform choreographer Marius Petipa’s triumphant Sleeping Beauty.

“It is the quintessence of classical ballet,” says Igor Levin, the presenter of the company. “It is one of those amazing works that last over the ages and have universal appeal. It is because of Tchaikovsky’s romantic score and the wonderfully appealing story. Everyone falls in love with it.”

For the third year at NJPAC, dance in the Garden State is the heartbeat of Jersey Moves! Festival of Dance on March 8. The festival leads off with the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company, celebrating more than 30 years of creative modern dance, and 10 Hairy Legs, the new company under the artistic direction of Randy James. A second installment of Jersey Moves! will be held on May 3, with performances by American Repertory Ballet, Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, Cleo Mack Dance Project, tap dancer Maurice Chestnut, dancer Timothy Kochka and dance artist Claire Porter.

The dance performances culminate on May 10 and 11 with the return of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Bringing to the stage the masterpiece Revelations, as well as works new to the repertory from Bill T. Jones, Aszure Barton and Wayne McGregor, the dancers show off their versatility and their beauty.

“I have pushed them into new territory,” says Artistic Director Robert Battle, “and they are enjoying the heck out it. They love the challenges and audiences love to see them meet them.”

Valerie Gladstone writes about the arts for The New York Times, The Washington Post and other publications. She published a book about George Balanchine and most recently A Young Dancer: The Life of an Ailey Student with photographer Jose Ivey. She will curate dance at the Emelin Theater in the Spring.

Dec. 19, 2013