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Flash Review 2, 11-30:
A Gala to Celebrate
Out of the Cold and Trouble, a Hand from Alvin
By Vanessa Paige-Swanson
Copyright 2000 Vanessa Paige-Swanson
I have personally undertaken
the responsibility of composing a new motto for our country. Thus
far I have come up with the following: "America -- You Can't Beat
it With a Stick," "America -- It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the
Time," and "America -- You Want Your Face to Freeze that Way?" Admittedly,
I am even more bemused than usual by the U.S. of A., as I have just
returned from the socially stellar and artistically resplendent
Opening Night Gala of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at
City Center (Run, don't walk, there are 38 more shows. Cross someone
off your Christmas list and buy a ticket.).
Afterwards, as I trudged
south on 7th Avenue, I was contemplating all of the weighty topics
that such a once in a lifetime event inspires: Life, Art, Dance
etc., until I was stopped dead by a huge mass of people on 42nd
Street. "Ah," I thought warmly. "Fellow humans, my siblings in society."
Eventually, my Ailey buzz subsided and I finally asked what, exactly,
was the f-ing hold up already! "The magician," my victim explained.
"He is frozen in a block of ice!" Now, it was raining and frigidly
cold and we were not moving at all and the chances of life imitating
"art" were better than usual, in that those gathered to watch could
conceivably be frozen in their own personal block of ice at any
time in the near future. Somehow, even with rain running down my
back, it just made me appreciate Ailey all the more.
The Gala opened (after
the usual fundraising chatter) with artistic director Judith Jamison,
regal and slightly hoarse, promising that the dances would make
us uplifted, educated, stir our hearts and help us find "a light
shining within you that you didn't know you had." Following Jamison,
Bill Cosby, gracious, generous and surprisingly gray-haired, acknowledged
that the major contributors, though appreciated, had "not had an
apartment in the projects." Cosby reminded the audience of the "real
blood" sweat and tears that had formed the Ailey company in the
past, and of the days when the audience asked "Can they really dance?
I hope they don't fall down." They didn't.
An all-too-short excerpt
from "Cry" opened the program. Ailey created the 1971 solo "For
all Black women everywhere, especially our mothers." Wearing the
signature white dress, Linda-Denise Evans beautifully realized the
heartfelt, understated movement -- the deep plies, the defiant reaches
and the exuberant leg extensions. She was joined at the finale by
seven young students from the Ailey school, who (take it from one
who works with children), were rehearsed within an inch of their
lives and added a glorious note of continuity to this timeless dance.
I only wish it had been presented in its entirety.
Jamison's "Double Exposure"
was inspired by the score by Robert Ruggieri. Two men, Matthew Rushing
and Glenn A. Simms, represent dual sides of one person, a concept
that is further realized by the video backdrop. A trio of women,
reminiscent of the Three Graces of Greek mythology, enhance the
concept of personalities struggling within an individual. Jamison
cleverly mixes frou-frou technology with startlingly technical lines;
everything from Balanchine's "Apollo" to Nijinsky's "L'Apres-Midi
D'un Faun" is referenced here, like when your mother put chopped
spinach in your hamburger and you didn't even notice.
These dances were followed
by intermission, during which I rubbed up against more rich people
than I had since my undergraduate days at Hamilton College. A glass
of champagne was $7, and I had brief visions of sipping with David
Bowie (Iman was the other Honorary Chair). I had enough money if
I used subway tokens, but somehow I doubted the bartender would
accept them. Suddenly, I was back in my seat for "Revelations."
I first saw "Revelations"
crouched in front of a black and white TV set in the late '70s.
I was 9 years old, and, as a fledgling dance student who knew exactly
how difficult it all was, sincerely doubted that these people were
real. Of course, I also misheard the section entitled "Sinner Man"
as "Cinnamon," and wondered what all the suffering was about, being
a great fan of cinnamon myself. Did they prefer nutmeg? One could
was even more gorgeous and inspiring than expected. The company
sincerely embodied the emotional text of the traditional gospel
score, showing us that celebration and discipline, joy and remembrance
can only truly exist together. Simultaneously, they expertly and
seemingly effortlessly tacked the physical demands of the dance,
making the challenging movement seem to be the obvious, organic
extension of the sentiment. Yes, they face the audience shamelessly.
Yes, they are often in the center, center, center of the stage.
Yes, they use their considerable technical prowess without reservation.
The results are wonderful.
When Martha Graham died,
I was offended by the editorials that proclaimed that "Gee, she
was just as important as Picasso or Stravinsky! Damnit, she was
a real artist, that little lady! " I now have the same outrage over
"Revelations." Like you, I was forced to read (or at least skim)
"Julius Caesar," "Lord of the Flies," and "A Separate Peace." I
needed to be able to recognize Michelangelo's David, Liberty Leading
the People and that God-awful portrait of George Washington. I can
affirm with conviction that Force x Distance = Those Iron Sinkers
Scattered Over the Science Room Floor. Why then, do we not recognize
Alvin Ailey's "Revelations"? Why can we not acknowledge one of the
greatest modern dance pieces of all time? Why is it that an informed
viewing of "Revelations" is not required for graduation from an
American high school?
An early line from the
score of Ailey's "Revelations" states that "There is trouble all
over this world." Just as this line is sung, the dancers flip their
palms, eerily lit, to the audience. Yes, regardless of race, there
IS trouble all over this world. At the same time, a human hand is
a human hand, available for all of us to grasp or leave behind.
This is the enduring message of Ailey. This is his gift to us.
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