Traditional becomes exceptional at Dance Theatre of Harlem performance

Traditional becomes exceptional at Dance Theatre of Harlem performance
Dancers perform “Contested Space” by Donald Byrd. Photo by Rachel Neville

Ballet isn’t always about pointed shoes and tutus. It’s about emotion, feeling, movement. It’s not about looking like a princess. To some, it can be down-right ugly. When performers from Dance Theatre of Harlem take the stage at the Moore Theatre this month, audiences will see ballet in a whole new light.

The critically-acclaimed company, returning after an eight-year hiatus, will perform two programs on Nov. 16 and 17 that blend traditional and contemporary ballet styles. The company will also offer a list of activities throughout the week, including dance master classes and spoken word workshops, for select groups.

Although the company is rooted in traditional ballet techniques, audiences will experience a wide range of styles that push the human body to the limit. As a founding member and former principal dancer, company Artistic Director Virginia Johnson, said it’s thrilling to see young dancers return to the stage.

“As a young girl, I dreamed of being a ballet dancer, but was told I couldn’t do it because I was black,” she said. “I feel very fortunate and thrilled that I can pass this art form along to the next generation of dancers.”

After reopening last summer, the company has been hard at work rehearsing the difficult performances that range from neo-classical style to contemporary. During the show, Seattle will have a chance to flex its artistic muscle with Spectrum Dance Theater Artistic Director Donald Byrd’s work, Contested Space. The abstract contemporary ballet premiered for the first time on stage last winter at the Joyce Theater in New York. This will be the first time the performance debuts in Seattle.

“It’s very quirky, but also sexy,” Byrd said. “You’ll feel the sensuality and physicality of body, as well as the dynamic of real-life interpersonal relationships.”

Another first-time debut is choreographer John Alleyne’s Far but Close, a performance that also pushes the boundaries of traditional dance.

“It tells a contemporary love story with live actors and musicians,” Johnson said. 

Since launching in 1969, Dance Theatre of Harlem’s mission has been to promote creativity and diversity among its dancers and performances. This relaunch performance will be no different.

“We’ve always been about promoting the idea that given access and opportunity, anyone can create what they want out of life,” Johnson said. “I hope (the audience) be exhilarated. I hope they’ll dance their way out of the theater.”