Modern and classical dance worlds collided Tuesday afternoon when The Dance Theatre of Harlem Ensemble performed for 1,200 middle and high school students.
There also were some moments of interaction during the hour-long lecture and demonstration at the Shuman Recreation Center, led by ensemble director Keith Saunders.
“For a dancer — just like an athlete — our instrument is our body,” Saunders said. “And we must keep that instrument well-tuned, well-oiled and in what we call good, working condition.”
To do so, classically trained dancers take a 90-minute classical ballet class almost every day of their working lives.
“We want to achieve what we call muscular memory,” he said. “Even though our minds or our brains may not be thinking about how we do a particular movement, our bodies, or our muscles remember what to do.”
The first formal home for classical ballet was in the court of Louis XIV in France, he said. He demonstrated turnout, the posture idea rooted in fencing that separates ballet from other dance disciplines.
Twelve dancers, both male and female, demonstrated as Saunders lectured, beginning with basic plies and working their way up to full dances. They performed two classical dances and a neoclassical before Saunders opened the stage to the audience.
“The technique has incorporated steps from folk and social dancing, and incorporated them into the technique … We like to find out, what are some of the latest dances that you guys are doing,” the ensemble director said.
About a dozen students came to the stage, where they bumped and bounced along to Beyonce’s “Who Run the World (Girls).”
One girl in a navy blue sweatshirt wowed the crowd with her rhythm and flow.
Saunders singled the girl out, asked her name and then asked the crowd to give a round of applause to Journae’.
“In the course of that, I don’t know, 45 seconds, she was on point, she was turned in, she was turned out …,” Saunders said. Then he led the volunteers through a series of classical ballet movements, beginning with first position.
“They just had their first ballet lesson with the Dance Theatre of Harlem,” he said over applause.
The stage standout, Lewis Frasier Middle School eighth-grader Journae’ Young, said she let loose and performed what she describes as “a wave.”
“I just danced at home since I was little,” Journae’ said after the show, adding her brother often showed her moves. “When I get older, I want to be a dancer — like the kind that Chris Brown and Rihanna do.”
Bradwell Institute junior Ayonna James and senior Autumn Mitchell also were wowed by the show.
“It showed a variety and a diversity of different dances …,” Ayonna said. “When they started doing the movements, you see the serenity and the peacefulness to their structure.”
And both felt that Saunders’ explanations of the dance moves enhanced their understanding of the routines.
“If I see them doing the movements, I think, ‘Well, OK, it’s ballet,’” Ayonna said. “But when they showed you, it made it seem like each step has a meaning, and if you don’t have that step, then you don’t have the whole meaning or definition.”
Autumn, who is an assistant teacher at Cheryl Brett Dance Studio, said that while she already knows the terms Saunders introduced, the experience still was educational.
“We don’t do a lot of classical ballet. We do mostly contemporary, and it’s really nice to see how other people interpret their dance,” Autumn said
The troupe also performed a 90-minute show Tuesday night for the public.