WASHINGTON -- The program that Dance Theatre of Harlem selected to open its two-week run last night at the Kennedy Center did not feature a world premiere, but the program did offer ballet excitement as only this company can deliver.
Opening the evening was "The Four Temperaments" to music by Paul Hindemith. This beautiful and difficult abstract ballet by George Balanchine usually closes the program of lesser ballet companies, but DTH announced its D.C. arrival with a finely tuned and vigorous performance.
While the dancing wasn't impeccable, DTH still dances this ballet better than any company around. Perhaps it is because the company's artistic director, Arthur Mitchell, trains his dancers the same way George Balanchine trained him. The dancing is fluid and electric. It pours and gushes into rivulets of action that culminate in crescendoes of both music and dance.
While all the company dancers were notable for their stylistic integrity, dancers of exception included Robert Garland, who performed the third variation, "Phlegmatic." Mr. Garland offered fine upper body gestural nuance that contrasted his strong underlayer of pure balletic form. Mr. Garland along with his four female partners struck poses that quickly became abstract.
Mr. Garland's musical phrasing was precise and polite. He doesn't rush at the music, rather he is always crisply on top of the beat.
Equally impressive were Judy Tyrus and Augustus Van Heerden in the second variation, "Sanguinic." Ms. Tyris and her partner both have a well-developed sense of daring. Her backwards steps were just slightly off-balance, and her lifted leaps were impressive. And the couple's final exit was simply riveting.
"Footsteps Dressed in Red" choreographed by Garth Fagan was a slow-moving paean to the "joy and pain of being a dancer," as noted in the program. Mr. Fagan's large-scale work for six principals and 18 dancers was like seeing the components of dance broken apart and reassembled.
There are stunning moments in both the choreography and the dancing.
The Dance Theatre of Harlem's performances continue at the Kennedy Center Opera House through March 29, with these dances as well as the works "Medea" and "Scheherazade" scheduled.