The program opened with Garland's "Gloria," set to the music of Poulenc, as a tribute to Harlem's spiritual legacy. It was a soothing, large group piece danced in pretty formations of blues and greens, with a corps of children, and some interesting duets.
One section had a woman again and again promenading with one man who then turned her into the arms of another man and then back again.
But the piece sometimes looked under-rehearsed, with arms and legs not always synchronized, and couples moving at different times. The subject and the music also begged for far more emotional involvement and larger movements than the dancers delivered.
They did deliver, however, on the next piece, Balanchine's "Agon," set to Stravinsky, a leotard ballet that demands precision. The ensemble's founder, Arthur Mitchell, danced "Agon" with Diana Adams, a white dancer, in its world premiere with New York City Ballet in 1957, the year federal troops enforced the integration of Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas.
That duet was danced Thursday by Frederick Davis and Gabrielle Salvatto, who showed remarkable balance and control, relying on her partner more as part of the movement than for support.
Chrystyn Fentroy was nearly as impressive in her pas de trois that often gave her little support from either man.
DePrince had featured roles in "Gloria" and "Agon," dancing well but without special aplomb. She is just 18, though, and still finding her way. She dances the black swan pas de deux from Swan Lake in some performances.
Donald Byrd's "Contested Space" showed off the dancers particularly well. Set to electronic music by Amon Tobin, it is a modern, jazzy ballet that has the dancers in hyperextended positions, turned upside down and back again in quick lifts, with legs vibrating in place and in fast bourrées. Even a seemingly simple combination has three women booking it through fast chaine turns and fouettés across the stage.
With a smaller cast of dancers still finding their footing in the reborn company, the Dance Theatre of Harlem has an uphill climb to become the company Mitchell founded in 1969. But they're on their way, and welcome back.
Additional performances: 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 3680 Walnut St. Tickets: $20-65. Information: 215-898-3900 or www.annenbergcenter.org
Contact writer Ellen Dunkel at email@example.com.