Irish Times writers give their vertict.

Irish Times writers give their vertict.

Dance Theatre of Harlem, Grand Opera House, Belfast

By Jane Coyle

Eclecticism and commercialism are the great strengths of Dance Theatre of Harlem, the company founded in 1969 by the legendary Arthur Mitchell in the New York district where he grew up. Mitchell's own classical training began in the city's High School of the Performing Arts, from where he rose to become principal dancer with New York City Ballet and an internationally sought-after guest artist. In that same spirit, it is impossible to resist the sheer joy of performance, coupled with an instinctive sense of rhythm and natural movement, which radiates from this troupe of talented individuals. The first of two programmes presented on the company's debut visit to Ireland, as the climax of the EarthQuake Festival, vividly demonstrates the scope of its work and its ability to deliver it in a manner guaranteed to delight audiences.


Dougla opens with the full cast ranged across the Opera House stage, a huge red sun burning down from a cobalt blue sky. To a pounding drum accompaniment, both Indian and African in its influence, we are treated to a spectacular celebration of the wedding ritual of the Dougla people - the name for the offspring of African and Hindu couples. Against the swirling backdrop of traditional dance, soloist James Washington displays an impressive mastery of classical ballet, a glorious combination of lithe strength and disciplined grace. Return does just that - returning the dancers to their cultural roots through the music of James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Alfred Ellis and Carolyn Franklin. Five excerpts, including a breathtaking pas de deux by the Russian-trained Alicia Graf and Donald Williams, feature funky dance routines - en pointe - encompassing perfectly the raison d'etre of the company. Its version of the famous Ballets Russes Firebird relies heavily on stunning costumes and set, together with Kellye A. Saunders's unearthly portrayal of the mythical bird. The choreography itself may be somewhat grounded and lacking the soaring passion and lift of Fokine's original, but, as Stravinsky's music died away, it did not prevent the capacity audience from rising to its feet in deafening appreciation.

Dance Theatre of Harlem presents its programme of classical pieces by George Balanchine from tonight to Saturday. Tel: Belfast 9024 1919.

The Real Thing, Andrew's Lane Theatre, Dublin

By Helen Meany

Tom Stoppard has written poignantly about love - in Arcadia and The Invention of Love - but rarely as playfully as in The Real Thing (1982), which trips up the audience with plays-within-plays, borrows liberally from Pirandello and Coward, and makes literary points with the help of a cricket bat. As with all of Stoppard's early work, it's as much about writing as it is about love. The central character, the hyper-articulate playwright Henry (Chris McHallem), struggles to find a way to write about true feelings, to distinguish between the ersatz and the "real" in art. He can depict the break-up of a marriage, just as his own marriage to an actress Charlotte (Iseult Golden) is ending, but he can't find a literary language to express his great love for Annie (Morna Regan), another actress, who has left her husband Max (David O'Meara) for him.

If Henry is Stoppard's alter ego, the playwright has, typically, built in plenty of self-awareness. While he celebrates the potency of cheap music, championing 1960s pop over classical music, he refuses to acknowledge that there could be more than one kind of good writing. A somewhat contrived subplot, involving the underwritten role of an uneducated, aspiring playwright, Brodie (Enda Kilroy), allows Henry the opportunity to rant against sloganeering agit-prop in the theatre and to reveal him as a social as well as a literary snob.

"Words are sacred," he declares passionately. At the same time he allows himself to indulge in some bad screenwriting and ghostwriting for the sake of his relationship with Annie. In Gúna Nua's production Chris McHallem captures these contradictions sensitively, moving convincingly from the confident insouciance of the early scenes to the point where jealousy has taken over and Henry collapses onto the sofa with a subdued howl. Partly, perhaps, because McHallem doesn't have to affect his English accent, his is the most comfortable performance. Tadhg Murphy also stands out as Billy, a young actor who charmingly seduces Annie while playing opposite her in Tis Pity She's A Whore. There is an awkward stiffness about the other performances, however, making these undoubtedly urbane characters excessively brittle and mannered, with wavering accents that seem unnecessary.

As one almost-identical sitting room is exchanged for another, stuffed with furniture that seems out of synch with Chisato Yoshimi's simple geometric set design, the cumbersome scene-changes are in danger of puncturing the mood and dulling the pace. Luckily, the cleverly selected soundtrack bounces over them, teasing the audience. The closing snatches from The Monkees' I'm a Believer, acknowledges that the play's ending is not wholly convincing, but will have to do - until "the real thing" comes along.