Partying with Dance Theatre of Harlem: Balamouk by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa

DTH On Demand online
June 27, 2020

David Mead

If you had to sum up Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Balamouk in one word, it would surely be ‘colour’. This 2018 Fall for Dance commission for Dance Theatre of Harlem is a riot of it: in costumes, in movement and in music.

The title translates as ‘house of the insane’ in Romanian, and comes from the 2002 album of the same name by the French band Les Yeux Noirs, who provide much of the musical accompaniment, along with contributions from Australian composer Lisa Gerrard and French instrumentalist Rene Aubry. Les Yeux Noirs’ musical style combines elements from right across Eastern Europe, especially Klezmer and Roma, plus a healthy dose of contemporary jazz. Ochoa taps into this rousing fusion superbly in joyful dance that occasionally turns wild and raucous. It’s a party; a rave even; and for just over 20 minutes, we are all welcome.

While some very classical moments appear, the movement vocabulary tends towards the contemporary. There are multicultural quotations galore as elements of folk and African dances blend smoothly with classical pirouettes and pointework, including some swan-like bourrées. There is even a reference to Durga, the many-armed Hindu goddess. I guess you would call it eclectic.

Dance Theatre of Harlem in Balamouk by Annabelle Lopez OchoaPhoto Paula Lobo
Dance Theatre of Harlem in Balamouk by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
Photo Paula Lobo

The choreography is at its best in the tight yet energetic ensemble sections like that which opens the ballet and that are pushed along by the klezmer, and in which the dancers are highlighted by Les Dickert’s sparse, hazy lighting. Even here, there are moments when you sense rebellion and individuality trying to escape. Sure enough, it soon does. There are slower, more thoughtful sections too, sometimes with an ominous feel, but it’s never long before the excitement returns.

I also very much enjoyed Mark Zappone’s flowing, pastel costumes. As he explained in an accompanying feature, each was influenced by the characters of the original cast. The result is a delightfully quirky mix, in which one of the men even gets a kilt-style skirt.

DTH founder Arthur Mitchell saw ballet as an art form for all, one without boundaries, one without barriers, one that should always push forward. Balamouk does all that, also making sure you can’t do anything but enjoy the ride.

Balamouk can be watched on DTH’s YouTube channel until July 5, 2020.