The world-renowned Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) will bring Toledo a unique combination of ballets, hand-selected for our city this month at Toledo’s Valentine Theatre. The TCP caught up with Virginia Johnson, the company’s Artistic Director, to discuss details of the show. Johnson was a founding member of the company and performed with them for 28 years, beginning in 1969.
The DTH is based in the Harlem neighborhood of Upper Manhattan, New York City. It’s comprised of a professional ballet company as well as a school. It is known the world over as the first black classical ballet company, with a central goal of prioritizing black dancers.
A unique performance
This season, the touring company has prepared a repertoire of 25 ballets, four of which will be performed in Toledo. Each city on the tour is presented with its own unique combination of ballets.
“There are so many different ways to use this language of classical ballet and each offers different kinds of effects,” said Johnson. “We can make a very diverse program in terms of style and feeling so the audience can sense how broad and powerful this art form can be.”
What can audiences expect from the Toledo performance? “The music ranges from Bach to Aretha Franklin and James Brown. A very wide and eclectic range,” Johnson noted. Audience goers will experience contemporary pieces as well as those that reflect the African American heritage of the performers.
The first piece, “Vessel,” is directed by highly-regarded choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie, who notably served as choreographer on Beyonce’s Mrs. Carter Show tour. Audiences will delight in the high-energy athleticism of the performers in this piece.
The second piece, “Chaconne,” is choreographed to Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Partida.” It serves as contrast to the first piece, as it features only a solo pianist and solo dancer.
The third piece, “Change” is choreographed by modern dance icon, Dianne McIntyre. The work is the first dance the Cleveland-native created to be performed on pointe, and this classical ballet technique is juxtaposed with African drumming and two traditional spiritual songs sung by the Spelman College Glee Club.
“There’s a lot of history in ‘Change’ and it reflects on the power of the African-American female,” Johnson commented.
Finally, the fourth piece, “Return,” is choreographed by the DTH’s resident choreographer, Robert Garland, to the music of Aretha Franklin and James Brown.
“‘Return’ encapsulates what the Dance Theatre of Harlem is all about,” Johnson said. “We’re a company that’s based in the classic tradition, but we’re also African-Americans and our heritage is part of it, too. The fusion of these things together is what makes ‘Return.’”
The DTH, although founded upon the principle of providing a space for black dancers to excel in their art form, is now a very diverse company.
“The company is made up of young artists that come from around the world– African-Americans, Brazilians, Koreans…” said Johnson. “That’s the thing that’s really striking about The Dance Theatre of Harlem— we see this art form as something that belongs to everyone. When you come to a performance, you see how it’s possible for all of us to work together and make something beautiful.”
7:30pm Wednesday, January 18. $38-$58.
The Valentine Theatre
410 Adams St., 419-242-ARTS.