Bouncing along happily: Dance Theatre of Harlem in New Bach

DTH On Demand
February 20, 2021

David Mead

Sometimes, it’s nice just to watch dance and simply wallow in the movement and music without having to think too much. And if it comes with a smile on its face, as does New Bach, created by Dance Theatre of Harlem Resident Choreographer Robert Garland for the company back in September 2001, so much the better.

Garland once described the ballet as “post-modern-urban neoclassicism.” That tongue-in-cheek description sums it up very neatly. Danced to Bach’s Violin Concerto No.1, it’s a ballet emblematic of Dance Theatre of Harlem style; a work for a principal couple backed by four men and four women, built on George Balanchine style, but then rippled through with the Harlem dance vernacular. As Garland says in a pre-performance Q&A, it shows off ballet technique but also what happens when the pointe shoes come off.

Lindsey Donnell, here with former DTH Artist Fredrick Davis, in New BachPhoto Rachel Neville
Lindsey Donnell,
here with former DTH Artist Fredrick Davis, in New Bach
Photo Rachel Neville

From Lindsey Donnell’s clap that sets things in motion, the opening Allegro moderato movement bounces along happily. Four men act as a chorus her light, upbeat and just a little bit sassy dance. Garland then repeats the same with an equally happy looking Anthony Santos and four women.

The middle, slow, Andante movement is just as balanced. Donnell, then the elegant Santos are, ‘escorted’ in by their backing groups in a manner that brought brings thoughts of Act II of Giselle, for him especially. Each dances a thoughtful solo before they come together in a pas de deux that sometimes suggests a relaxed evening in a downtown club but is sometimes classical through and through. Among the more unusual moments is Donnell balancing in arabesque on her partner’s thigh as he kneels on the other leg.

Garland then breaks things up for the closing Allegro assai, a breathtaking fast car ride to the end.

New Bach is a joy. Garland’s nods to that urban modernism always raise a smile. The Latin moves, slinky hips, shoulder shimmies, coy smiles at each other and the audience, and other gestures all emerge so fluently from the classicism that they often come as a surprise. It almost becomes a game spotting them, awarding yourself a Brownie point every time you catch another.

The ballet leaves no hiding place. With its fast petit allegro, and many pirouettes and jumps, it demands strong technique. There is the odd lapse, but Donnell and Santos mostly come up trumps. The corps are nicely crisp too.

It all makes for a lovely quarter of an hour and is a ballet that shows the company well.

Dance Theatre of Harlem in Robert Garland’s New Bach is available on DTH’s YouTube until February 28, 2021.

Also available is a short Q&A with the choreographer; and Enjoy New Bach Leads Talk Tea, a post-show discussion in which dancers talk about their experiences working with Robert Garland and performing the ballet.