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Flash Review 1, 12-4: Rocking in
the Bosom of Ailey
Modern Dance's Hit Company Creates a Frenzy
By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2001 Darrah Carr
NEW YORK -- Alvin Ailey dancers are
the rock stars of modern dance. As seen Friday at City Center, they blaze through
"Revelations" and are met with wild applause and a standing ovation. Several curtain
calls later, the lights dim as if it's time to go, but then they jump into an
encore of "Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham." Like a favorite classic, everyone
knows the words, everyone claps along, and no one ever tires of it. It is truly
rockin.' How do they inspire such frenzied fans? By mastering that celebrity blend
of seeming to be familiar, yet actually being untouchable.
Sections of Alvin Ailey's classic
"Revelations" play with recognizable human characteristics, such as the finale's
sassy, fan whipping women and their flirtatious banter with the male chorus. At
other times, in the duet "Fix Me Jesus," for example, the dancers resonate with
absolutely unearthly grace. Within these alternating states of emotion lies the
work's ability to show us both what we know and what we only yearn for. This,
in turn, gives "Revelations" its enduring appeal.
"Blues Suite," the other Ailey classic
on the bill Friday, takes a slightly different approach, relying primarily on
the familiar and gestural to communicate. A little prop heavy, the choreography
paints wordless character sketches with the aid of a high held umbrella, a floppy
feathered hat, or a stool to slump over. A favorite is "Backwater Blues," a duet
for Dwana Adiaha Smallwood and Amos J. Machanic Jr, which perfectly embodies the
"I can neither live with you nor without you" state of a fighting couple. Their
partnering, flawlessly executed, aptly conveys the power struggle embedded in
the choreography. The company's high energy rendition of "Yancey Special" and
"Sham" was carried even higher by the powerful singing of Ella Mitchell.
Ronald K. Brown's new work, "Serving
Nia," brought a nice contrast to the program, for it is more abstract in style
than the Ailey classics. His movement vocabulary is a blend of ballet, modern,
hip-hop, and traditional African dance. This is a potent mix. Dancers walk casualy
on-stage and then, without warning, burst into colorful displays of rich, lush
movement. High extensions whip out from undulating torsos, while arms slice through
space to complement powerful jumps. Brown's spatial design is dense and layered.
He is a fan of asymmetry and often has three or more phrases going at once. This
tendency never overloads the eye, however, for Brown also knows how and when to
juxtapose movement and stillness. Often a line of dancers will stand still like
lines of sentries, while one shimmers tirelessly between them. Brenda Dolan's
spectacular lighting design provided the environment for this visual feast, including
one particularly breathtaking backdrop of pinprick stars. Unfortunately, the piece
seemed to trail off, rather than finish with an exclamation point, as such magnificent
dancing would have warranted.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
runs through December 31 at City
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