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Flash Review, 12-19: New Revelations
Ailey Shows Muscle in Premieres

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2002 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- On Tuesday at City Center, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater presented two works premiering this season (from former company dancers Francesca Harper and Lynne Taylor-Corbett), one work receiving its company premiere (from Ohad Naharin), and a new production of Elisa Monte's "Treading," long a repertory staple. As usual, the company danced with muscular intensity, so much that at times I wished for it to be tempered to reveal the nuances within the choreography. Despite that, the Ailey is an exceptionally striking, dynamic group that continues to push the limits of physics.

Taylor-Corbett's "Prayers from the Edge," like Harper's part of the company's "Women's Choreography Initiative," is set to Peter Gabriel's film score "Passion," which provided a foundation full of drama and rhythm. Judanna Lynn designed the costumes and Michal Korsch, the set and lighting design. Gold and red defined the two sparring tribes, led respectively by two commanding performers, Bahiyah Sayyed-Gaines and Matthew Rushing, who performed a beautiful section carrying two thrush branches; he demonstrated his pure sense of balance. Broken into seven prayer sections, the story revolved around a romance between Clifton Brown and Linda Celeste Sims. Brown, just a kid, is a towering, gentle presence with long limbs and an innocent demeanor -- a joy to watch. He promises to take on an even stronger presence as he matures, although let's hope his sense of unshakable optimism doesn't wane.

As the wrongly persecuted young man who has just discovered love, Brown expressed completely opposite sentiments simply running in a circle -- joy, with his arms spread open wide, and, later on, desperation, with his arms pumping. His Romeo paired with the Juliet portrayed by Sims, a forceful yet fluid dancer. Taylor-Corbett had the dancers traverse the stage in sharp, rhythmic lines, sometimes spiralling their arms into fourth position. In a plea for vengeance, they thrust their palms forward while their bodies pulled backward, spun, and hit a position.

Ohad Naharin, from Israel, contributed "Black Milk," which premiered in 1984; the version set on Ailey was reworked in 1992. The five men, bare-chested, wore white wrap pants (costumes by Rakefet Levy), and spread a dark paste over their brows and chests, seemingly in preparation for battle or ritual. Naharin gave them big moves -- high jumps, barrel leaps, fast direction shifts -- which they performed with urgency. They pulled their arms back at the elbows, and let their hands relax. The strong but lyrical style contrasted with that seen in Naharin's recent work such as "Naharin's Virus," a far more idiosyncratic vocabulary of isolations and twitches amid longer, more flowing passages. "Black Milk" is a compact yet explosive piece, and a welcome addition for this company's incredible roster of men.

"Treading," a hypnotic duet choreographed by Elisa Monte in 1979, was performed by Brown and Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell. Slow, powerful, bird-like layouts alternated with sky-high developpes and balanced hinges on folded legs. It was set to Steve Reich's "Eighteen Musicians," with sherbet unitards designed by Marisol. While not exactly feeling dated, the duet evoked Cirque du Soleil, which was founded just a few years after this piece's premiere. However, the image that remains in the mind's eye is of the sweet symbiosis of this pair.

Francesca Harper choreographed Apex to music by Rolf Ellmer, and her own vocals. Typed text flashed onto the backdrop, once at a striking diagonal, another time on an unfurled white banner, revealing the piece's underlying theme of persecution, political asylum, and its denial. The dancers hit positions with satisfying precision, kicking, moving through passes into a torqued placement, and forming parallel fourth positions with their arms in big ovals. They wore a range of costumes designed by Epperson: dominatrix boots, geometric tanks, even a Pierrot ensemble. Harper's years spent dancing with William Forsythe's Ballett Frankfurt emerged now and again -- a portable spotlight, a line of fluorescent tubes descending from above, or the use of spoken text. The message, valid as it may be, overrode the formal and kinetic ideas being explored.

It is not easy to maintain the legacy of an icon such as Alvin Ailey, not even if you're Judith Jamison, the company's current artistic director. The addition of three new varied pieces by distinct choreographers is a promising investment toward the company's artistic health. That might be easily outpaced by attention that must be paid toward realizing the troupe's new headquarters, slated for a 2004 opening. Let's hope the two objectives continue developing hand-in-hand.

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