Founded after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Dance Theatre of Harlem rose to prominence as a “classically American” ballet troupe composed primarily of African-American performers.
Financial challenges forced it to shut down in 2004, but its distinguished school and junior company DTH II continue to function. This week, under the direction of Keith Saunders, DTH II performs four pieces and screens an inspiring film at the Joyce, demonstrating that black dancers can excel at ballet.
George Balanchine’s 1955 “Glinka Pas de Trois,” new to the ensemble, draws promising performances from Ashley Murphy, Davon Doane and Flavia Garcia. Live music enlivens “Six Piano Pieces,” a newish work by David Fernandez that sends four couples flirting and frolicking in party clothes. Christopher Huggins’ “In the Mirror of Her Mind” leaves Murphy at the mercy of three mysterious men who fling her around.
An ambitious world premiere, Donald Byrd’s “Contested Space,” hammers the dancers with Amon Tobin’s quirky percussive score. The jazzy choreography demands everything from 10 strong performers.
DTH director Virginia Johnson is currently touring the country, auditioning dancers for the 2013 rebirth of the senior company. Stay tuned; a renaissance in black ballet awaits.