By Walter Rutledge
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater 2012 season will come to a close on Sunday December 30th. The final four performances offer old favorites, classic Ailey works, and four company premieres and a world première. The Sunday December 16th program (can be seen on Sunday December 30, 3pm) showcased four of the new works; each provided a different glimpse into the direction being established by Artistic Director Robert Battle. Battle is now in his second season as artistic director of the company and is only the third person to hold the position in the fifty-four year history of the Ailey Company.
The program opened with Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort (1991). The sensory complexity of the work quickly became apparent. The dance began with six men onstage each holding a fencing foil. In silence the dancers began to move in unison with a military style precision. We could hear the foils cut through the air, and see the gleam from the blade. When the Mozart music finally began the dancers had already established a counterpoint, which had been developed in the silent prologue
The thorough exploration of the foil was ingenious. When the dancers stepped on the grip the blade rose off the floor with visual phallic connections. At another point the foils rolled on the round Bellguard in a semi-circular pattern around the motionless male performers.
Six female dancers joined the men on stage, and a series of duet encounters followed. The sculptural imagery derived through the plastique of the movement was varied, but retained the central theme. This provided an artistic continuity without the predictability of mere repetition or variation.
The women returned wearing two-dimensional ball gowns, which were on wheels. It resembled paper dolls wearing a cut out dresses. The dancers floated across the stage defying motion, their bodies hidden behind the gowns the actor emerge- it was delightful. This superbly staged ballet is a welcomed addition to the Ailey repertoire.
In Strange Humor (1998) the action was primarily confined to a diagonal shift of light from downstage left to upstage right. Two male dancers, Renaldo Gardner and Michael Francis McBride, were placed on opposite ends of the diagonal. Garner began by making a movement statement, and McBride responded. The ensuing action became more conversational than combative.
The dynamic and eclectic movement thankfully resisted the use of simple unison. It developed into a kind of sophisticated dancing call and response. Battle reinforced and heightened the action with (for lack of a better term) “free fall” movements, which has become a signature device. The dancers approach the floor without the expected (and in many cases necessary) plié; instead they hit the surface without restricting gravity or cushioning the landing. The effect jarred our dance esthetic, but added to the works’ modern art primitivism.
Another Night (2012) by Kyle Abraham was the only new work on the program. It was also the only work choreographed for/on the Ailey Company dancers. Abraham seamlessly blended ballet; modern, jazz, popular dance styles and vernacular gestures and attitude to create a playful and entertaining work.
Set to Dizzy Gillespie’s jazz classic Night In Tunisia Abraham successfully captured the essence of the American art form of jazz music through the amalgam of movement styles. A responsive torso complemented swirling arms, and Stag jumps were balanced by impeccable floor work. The colorful costumes by Naoko Nagata added to the merriment and his use of the complex and layered music showed depth and understanding.
With so many strong elements working the question remains why was the work ultimately not satisfying? Abraham took us on a wonderful journey, but it was on a road that has been well traveled. Although we enjoyed his skill as a craftsman, and marveled at the dancer’s commitment to the movement in the end this was an excursion into the familiar.
The program closed with a revival of Ronald K. Brown’s Grace (1999) the ensemble work conveyed a ritual, an elegant rite of passage. In the most minimal, yet most memorable of entrances Linda Celeste Sims descended upon us to the Ellington classic Come Sunday.
A compilation score of various artists followed in a continuous house music mix style. It was the ideal backdrop for this complete work that created its organic build and excitement from the movement. His use of repetition was always a subtle choreographic exploration through theme and development. This created an ever-expanding language that was clearly and articulately expressed to the audience and the Gods.<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/54311549″>Ronald K. Brown’s GRACE</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user3212993″>Alvin Ailey</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
At times the dancers moved through the Afrocentric based movement with a bravura and defiance of diasporic royalty. The work was peppered throughout with tempered, yet ambiguous struts; these linear crossing oft-times ignored the audience. Grace concluded with Jennifer Holliday’s Grammy Award winning rendition of Come Sunday. Sims and the cast made a celestial ascent, bringing the work back to the beginning for a final resolution.
This program truly defines the exciting direction the Alvin Ailey American Theater. Ironically, in many ways, it is the same direction that was established by company founder Alvin Ailey. The company has always been one of the greatest modern dance repertory companies to have ever graced a stage.
The expansive company repertory encompasses over 240 works including such revered and varied choreographers as Lester Horton (Beloved), Talley Beatty (Road of the Pheobe Snow), Louis Falco (Caravan), John Butler (Carmina Burana), Maurice Bejart (Firebird), Bill T. Jones (Fever Swamp), George Faison (Suite Otis) and Alvin Ailey. Ailey believed, “Dance comes from the people and should always be delivered back to the people.” This season reassured us that this important element of the Ailey legacy will continue.
In Photo: 1) Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater 2) Glenn Allen Sims and Linda Celeste Sims 3) Yannick Lebrun, James Boyd, Antonio Douthit 4) Antonio Douthit and Jamal Roberts 5) Company 6) Company 7) Alvin Ailey, Lucinda Ransom, Loretta Abbott
Photo Credit: 1) Andrew Eccles 2-6) Paul Kolnik 7) Courtesy Ailey Archives
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