Talking about Dougla and Dance Theatre of Harlem

The next Dance Talk in the series I’ve been hosting for the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center is for the much anticipated return of Dance Theatre of Harlem, which made a big stir last year when the Center hosted the company’s return to Miami after almost two decades. We’ll explore the inspiration and background of Dougla, the gorgeous dance theatre piece which the towering renaissance artist Geoffrey Holder created for DTH in 1974, and which the company revived to much acclaim this season.

Holder, a dancer, actor, choreographer, director, designer, painter and composer, emerged as part of a groundbreaking generation of civil rights era African-American dance artists who included Katherine Dunham, Alvin Ailey, Arthur Mitchell, and Holder’s wife Carmen de Lavallade. Born and raised in Trinidad, Holder named his famous ballet for a sometimes pejorative Trinidadian term for someone of Indian and African descent, an assertion of the beauty and value of mixed culture, and modeled the piece on elaborate traditional Dougla wedding rituals.

dth_dougla_da' von doane. photo by rachel neville
Members of Dance Theatre of Harlem in “Dougla.” Photo by Rachel Neville.

The speakers will be Theara J. Ward, a performer and education and program consultant who started her career with DTH as a 13-year-old baby ballerina, was mentored by Holder and Lavallade, and worked closely with Lavallade and the couple’s son Ben Holder on Dougla’s revival. Also joining us will be Peter London, former leading performer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, master teacher at the New World School of the Arts, founder/director of the Peter London Global Dance Company, which joins DTH onstage in performing Dougla in the Center, and, like Holder, from Trinidad. Additional speakers may be announced this weekend.

We’ll explore Holder’s vivid artistry, personality and unique position in American culture (from winning a Tony for directing and designing the Broadway hit The Wiz to appearing in the classic film musical Annie); the influence of Caribbean culture on African-American and modern dance artists; the Trinidadian society that inspired Holder and Dougla, and the pageantry, symbolism and inspiration of the dance itself. As a preview – London tells me that Trinidadian weddings of the kind that inspired Dougla can go on for a week, while Ward says that the piece has a theatrical grandeur that de Lavallade had to teach to this new generation of dancers. And we’ll touch on Dance Theatre of Harlem’s place in American dance, and how the company is shaping its profile, repertory and dancers as it moves forward in the 21st century.

dth_dougla_red_moon_group. photo by rachel neville (8)
Members of Dance Theatre of Harlem in “Dougla.” Photo by Rachel Neville.

It’s a discussion that should resonate in Miami, with its unique panoply of Caribbean culture and artists, and its own rich history of African-American dance and connections to DTH. As always, the pre-show dance talk includes an audience Q&A, while everyone is invited to share their reactions in a casual post-show conversation. We hope you’ll come, listen, and add your insights and stories!

The Dance Theatre of Harlem Dance Talks take place at 6:30pm Saturday Jan. 26th and 1:30pm on Sunday Jan. 27th in the Lab Theatre, at SMDCAC, 10950 SW 211th St., Cutler Bay, 33189. Tickets $25-$65 at 786-573-5300 or online. Post performance conversations are in the Main Stage theater immediately following the show. Both are free and open to all.

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