New York City’s Dance Theatre of Harlem will make its way to the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center on Nov. 12 as part of its 2013 tour.
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Dance Theatre of Harlem will bring a burst of culture to the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center with a variety of classical and neoclassical ballets on Nov. 12.
The dance company, based in Harlem in New York City, tours both nationally and internationally — but the coming week will mark its first performance at Cal Poly.
When Cal Poly Arts Director Steve Lerian booked Dance Theatre of Harlem at Cal Poly, he wanted to take advantage of the unique opportunity to host the company, he said.
“Dance Theatre of Harlem is one of the most regaled dance companies in the United States,” Lerian said.
The company is widely-recognized for its vibrant styles of dance, he said.
“Dance Theatre of Harlem is known for their dynamic athleticism and really powerful choreography with lots of energy, and that style of sort of a modern ballet,” Lerian said.
Dance Theatre of Harlem ballet master Keith Saunders said the company’s program for San Luis Obispo will include a wide variety of ballets.
“The audience can expect to see an eclectic and wide-ranging program when we come to San Luis Obispo,” Saunders said.
Saunders compared the process of composing a dance program to that of putting together a fine meal.
“You have an appetizer, a main course and a dessert, so to speak,” he said. “While you might come for the appetizer, you might be captivated by something that’s part of the main course, or you might be totally intrigued by the dessert.”
Dance Theatre of Harlem’s performance at Cal Poly will include three ballets commissioned by the company, Saunders said.
One such ballet, entitled “Far But Close,” incorporates choreography by John Alleyne, music by Daniel Bernard Roumain and text by Daniel Beaty, Saunders said.
The ballet speaks primarily to African-Americans’ experience in the United States.
“It tells a contemporary love story of two people who meet on the train in Harlem,” Saunders said.
The company will also perform “When Love,” with choreography by Helen Pickett and music by Philip Glass, and “Agon,” a 20th-century ballet by musical composer Igor Stravinsky and choreographer George Balanchine, Saunders said.
The performance will close with “Return,” also commissioned by Dance Theatre of Harlem, Saunders said. The ballet includes choreography by Robert Garland and music by Aretha Franklin and James Brown.
In addition to its performance, Dance Theatre of Harlem will host outreach activities in the San Luis Obispo area.
Lerian said the activities will include a master class, in which Dance Theatre of Harlem’s professional dancers will teach the specific choreography of their company.
The master class, for intermediate and advanced dancers, will take place at the Coastal Dance and Music Academy in Grover Beach, Lerian said.
The company will also host a free matinee performance at the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center on Nov. 13, he said. The matinee performance is by reservation only and intended for K-12 students.
Before being the company it is today, Dance Theatre of Harlem started out as a school of dance, founded to serve the Harlem community and dispel black stereotypes.
Saunders said the school’s founding in 1969 was, in part, an attempt to disprove the stereotype that African-Americans could not dance classical ballet. The school was also intended to give the Harlem community the opportunity to study and excel in the arts, he said.
The dance school continuously grew until the company was born in 1971, Saunders said. With each performance, the company successfully dismissed stereotypes against African-Americans, he said.
“Really, we’re a multi-racial, multi-national company, and our endeavor is to bring the best of this art form to our audiences,” Saunders said.
Dance Theatre of Harlem thrived until financial struggles forced it to close in 2004, he said. It remained closed until 2012.
In 2008, Dance Theatre of Harlem opened a second company, which toured in the United States until the first company’s re-opening, Saunders said. When the first company restarted, it absorbed some dancers from the second. It also held national auditions for new dancers, he said.
Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers must endure an exhaustive audition process before committing their lives to ballet, Saunders said.
“It is selective, and the training is very rigorous,” he said.
When the company re-opened in 2012, it toured for 12 weeks, Saunders said. This year it will tour for 12-15 weeks. Thestop at Cal Poly is part of the 2013 tour.
Cal Poly mathematics junior Sarah Roy plans to attend Dance Theatre of Harlem’s performance, she said. Roy is currently enrolled in a dance class with assistant professor Christy McNeil, who encouraged her students to attend the event.
Roy looks forward to the performance, she said.
“I’m excited to see if I can recognize any of the things I have learned in dance class,” Roy said. “It’ll just be exciting to see a dance concert. It’ll be fun.”
Tickets are available for prices ranging from $28.40 to $60. Student rush tickets are available for $10.
For more information on the master class, contact Denise Leader Stoeber at (805) 756-5914. For information on the matinee performance, contact Melody Klemin at (805) 756-5914.