June 13, 2020
Former member of Dance Theatre of Harlem, Darrell Grand Moultrie, recalls as a child watching the company perform. In a conversation with present artistic director Virginia Johnson that accompanied the streaming of his 2014 piece, Vessels, he said he remembers well what it meant to him, and that he saw the dancers as “vessels of possibility; moving, breathing containers” of artistic tradition, for the transfer of culture, and through which to transfer feelings, moods and emotions to the audience, which brings us neatly to his ballet.
Performed to music by Italian contemporary composer Ezio Bosso, who sadly passed away last month aged just 48 following a long battle against cancer, Vessels is divided into four sections and is based on the idea that a journey is cyclic and that everyone should be infused with something beautiful that can be transferred to others.
And beautifully appealing Vessels is. Essentially a pure dance piece, it shows the dancers off well. Music and movement come together perfectly. There are odd moments in unison sections when legs are at noticeably different heights (for some reason this is always much more obvious on film than ‘in person’) but what really stands out is the grace of the performers and the lovely flow of the choreography, both emphasised by George Hudačko’s simple rose-pink leotards.
‘Light’ features all ten dancers in a bright upbeat opening. The insistent music makes you want to move. Solos melt into duets melt into ensemble dances with ease; and although the music often has an unrelenting drive, Moultrie is no slave to it. For four of the women, the following ‘Belief’ starts with a series of solos, each feeling like a statement; a belief, if you like, that this is who I am.
At the heart of the ballet is ‘Love’. Chyrstyn Fentroy and Frederick Davis are sublime as they melt into each other. It’s delightfully unfussy and, as is so often the way, simple things stand out. Near the start, there’s a delicious moment when she falls backwards only to be caught in his arms. It’s a perfect example of the outstanding trust in each other the pair clearly have. Later she nestles her head on his chest. There are no big lifts, but when Davis does carry Fentroy he makes her float like a cloud. And then there’s the eyes. Always looking, always seeing, always for each other.
Vessels rounds off with ‘Abundance’, in which the whole cast return in a bright and bold ending, and a dance that expresses well the sheer joy of moving. As they come and go in waves, as groups form and dissolve, it’s a celebration: of dance, of music, of life.
Finally, how nice it is to see another properly curated season that puts works in context rather than simply just screening them. Besides that accompanying and all too brief conversation between Virginia Johnson and Darrell Grand Moultrie, DTH also streamed a live chat between members of the original cast on IGLive, and a short film dedicated to Ezio Bosso in which the company’s quarantined artists revisit the four themes of the ballet with their own, new interpretations.
Next on DTH On Demand is Robert Garland’s Return, available from 1am on Sunday June 21 (UK) to 5am the following morning. The screening will also include footage spanning 20 years of performance, hosted by former DTH principal dancer Tai Jimenez, on YouTube and Facebook, with live commentary by DTH artist Lindsey Donnell in the YouTube live chat. Alongside that are two discussions and a workshop that will teach a phrase from the ballet. For full details, visit www.dancetheatreofharlem.org.