Dance Theater of Harlem’s Wonder-ful ‘Higher Ground’— Signed, Sealed, Delivered

It’s not unusual to hear dance fans shout ‘bravo’ after seeing a program they approve.

However, rarely does intermittent cheers follow each plie, twirl or movement executed at recitals. On a recent occasion City Center, patrons to Dance Theater of Harlem shouted whole sentences approving the matinee offering.

“I want more of that!” a vociferous aficionado said.

The request endorsed “Look Around,” the first of a series of choreographed dances by Robert Garland set to the music of Stevie Wonder.

Along with standing ovations to express approval of the New York premiere presentation, the overwhelming response confirmed why audiences filled the lobby from early in the afternoon to secure seats to the limited performances which ended on April 10.

“Higher Ground” is the actual title of a six-song movement dedicated to the Motown Records composer who best addressed the complexities of the society. His 1973 soulful renditions musically connected society’s disproportionate distribution of wealth while satiating the appetites of fans who just wanted to boogey to the beats.

Wonder’s lyrics illuminated by visual interpretations featured bare-belly, hip-shaking, toe-tapping, hand-gesturing signals offered nostalgic throw-back to the tenor of the times while amplifying the 2020 call that Black Lives Matter.

And while the score blares attention, the socially endearing vocals never overwhelmed the movements or costumes Pamela Allen-Cummings draped beautifully against toned-bodies traversing the stage to renditions titled — “You Haven’t Done,” “Heaven Is Ten Zillion Light Years Away.” “Saturn,” “Village Ghetto Land” and “Higher Ground.”

Sheer rust-colored chiffon and subtle lighting by Roma Flowers provided earthy tones to toxic topics set to ballet, contemporary and classical movements Wonder punctuated with music.

In the opening segment Garland exceeds finesse to whisper instructions executed by Amanda Smith, Daphne Lee, Alexandra Hutchinson, Anthony Santos, Micah Bullard and Kouadio Davis.

Six dancers paid tribute to Wonder’s 1973 “Higher Ground” with grace, flexibility, poise, talent and wonderment.

Through each offering the dance heightens to peak at every chorus. By the time the lyrics reach “Saturn” a planetary movement seems to transport the audience to an elevation interpreted in steps that led to “Higher Ground.”

Garland describes the ballet as representative of “a Sankofa-esque reflection on our current times.”

Irrefutably wonderful, the soundtrack compatibly married the message, motions and movements to reference another signature composition the music legend released with his hit Signed Sealed and Delivered.

And while Garland’s premiere piece delighted patrons, choreographers Marius Petipa and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa did not disappoint.

Their varied offering presented dancers Crystal Serrano, Ingrid Silva and Smith, the triumvirate to cheer “Odalisques Variation” from “Le Corsaire.”

Petipa must have heard the ovations to the well-executed and precise cadence patrons awed throughout the 19th century tome that revealed the beauty of classical dancing.

Ochoa’s “Balamouk” featured Yinet Fernandez, Derek Brockington, Keenan English, Christopher Charles McDaniel, Lindsay Donnell and the full company.

In a lively presentation amplified by the Klezmatics the orchestra lavished musicianship with percussionist Richie Barshay, Matt Darriau Kaval on clarinet and saxophone and Lisa Gutkin’s vocals and violin.

Frank London doubled the delight playing the trumpet and keyboards while Paul Morrissett added bass and tsimbal.

Most prominent throughout, Lorin Sklamberg’s accordion indelibly imprinted memorable accompaniment to the program.

Sklamberg also played the guitar and piano.

It is no wonder patrons begged for an encore because each program provided a sampling of DTH’s past, present and future greatness.

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