By Walter Rutledge
On Thursday December 1st the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater presented the world premiere of Home by choreographer Rennie Harris. The premiere date has duel significance. December 1st is World AIDS Day, and it also commemorated the twenty-second anniversary of company founder Alvin Ailey’s death due to complication from the virus.
Home is inspired by the Fight HIV Your Way Contest, which was sponsored by Bristol Myers- Squibb. The initiative consisted of the written experiences from individuals whose lives have been effective by HIV. Over 1300 entries were submitted and 10 were eventually chosen. The work marks the first of its kind collaboration between the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Bristol Myers-Scribb.
Artistic Director Robert Battle briefly spoke prior to the premiere. He eloquently confirmed the company’s continued support for the elimination of the pandemic. “As long as it exists we are fighting collectively”, Battle asserted. He then acknowledge the ten finalists whose personal experiences were the foundation for Home.
If you are looking for a Hip-Hop challenge/battle work you have come to the wrong place. Harris has constructed a work of extreme subtlety and nuance. He uses the vocabulary of Hip-Hop as the medium to a great degree like an artist would use watercolor vs. oil paint. It is the tool used to convey the message, but not the focal point itself. With that analogy Home’s minimalist abstract approach brings to mind the artwork of Keith Herring, another artist whose life was tragically ended by the disease.
To Harris’ credit the abstract narrative is void of the hackneyed melodrama that usually permeates works dealing with this subject matter. Home displays maturity and a restrained reverence. The work is successfully presented to the audience through the choreographer’s own medium of dance.
Home opens with the ensemble seemingly sequestered in the center of the stage. The slow and often arrested group movements create an inner pulse that draws the audience into the solidarity of purpose. Slowly a lone dancer emerges from this universality.
The most striking and immediate solo is that of Matthew Rushing. There is a sense of introspection and exclusion in Rushing’s extended solo, an urgency that moves in counterpoint to the ensemble. It would have been easier for Harris to have a cast the younger performers, who were more familiar with the hip-hop genre; but the diversity reflects the many faces of HIV and gives the work a richness and purpose.
You have eight more opportunities to see Home during the Ailey 2011 fall season. The work will be performed December 13, 16, 17, 18, 21, 28, 30 and 31. The proceeds from the December 18 performance will benefit Dancers Responding to AIDS. There is also a special VIP ticket available for the December 18 performance, which includes VIP orchestra seating and a pre-performance reception. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has supported this worthwhile cause since 1999.
The see the entries from the Fighting HIV Your Way Contest visit www.fighthivyourway.com. To purchase VIP tickets for the December 18 performance visit www.dradance.org/ailey2011. Visit www.AlvinAiley.org for the complete performance calendar and tickets. Ticket can also be purchased at www.NYCityCenter.org, by telephone 212-581-1212, and at the New York City Center box office.
Photography by Paul Kolnik
Artwork: Silence= Death (1989) by Keith Haring