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Flash Review, 12-1:
All Ailey All the Time
Get Your Jaded Butt Off Your aol.com and up to City Center
By Mark Dendy
Copyright 2000 Mark Dendy
I can count on 20 hands
the number of times since moving to the dance capitol of the world
that I have been to a classic modern company filled with the almost
religious and fervent expectation of gleaning the essence of a great
artist's vision. Excited about being let in through the window of
the proscenium to their soul, only to have those hopes instantly
dashed by a lackluster, careless, and academically codified and
fought over rendition of the master's work. If you too have suffered
thus and don't bother with the greats any more because of it, do
yourself a favor and get your jaded butt off your aol.com and up
to City Center to see the all-Ailey program that bowed last night.
Oh, if only mother Martha
could have taken a lesson from former student Alvin and left her
company in the care of an uncompromisingly competent Artist, and
passionate keeper of the flame like Judith Jamison, but that's another
The works, spanning the
period 1960 to 1976 and all choreographed by Ailey, are squeaky
clean and brisk in corps unison, canon, and pattern work. The lead
dancers are all first rate, virtuosic and technically dead-on with
an ease and flourish that is not ostentatious as in past seasons,
but pure and of it's self. (That's right, no wobbles on one leg,
no hopped turns by anyone all evening! And I look for that sort
of thing. No hesitancy anywhere on the stage!) The key word is passion.
Passion-driven performances in which this man's spirit lives and
breathes through these incredibly gifted dancers. Casting is everything!
We're talkin' real meaty
physical emotionally charged, kinetically and anciently driven old-time
modern dancing, and for me, it's rare when I see it performed as
inspired and brilliantly as this company does it. Yes, it's a ballet-modern-jazz-Afro-eclectic
hodge-podge of a vocabulary, still somehow it is extremely idiosyncratic
and individualistic at its core. It is riveting work that is equally
informed by the indomitable African-American spirit and early-to-middle
modern dance forms.
I believe that the purpose
of theater as in life is to transform the audience, to create change,
and spur growth. Ritual for spiritual catharsis. If the ability
to transform an audience along with craft, wit, and a few old- time
show biz tricks up your sleeve makes a great artist, Alvin Ailey
is surely forever one.
With the exception of
"Night Creature," which by the way makes a great opener with it's
flickering finger motif and disintegrating and reaccumulating moving
triangle of bodies, each of the evening's works stands on its own
as great work. In "Night Creature" the men spring high, stay there
for a second or two and come down. The women whip off turns that
end in suspended-above 90 degree arabesques, as if it where nothing
at all. A playful punctuation to a flirtatious line just delivered
to one of the many stunning male torsos standing in their midst.
Wonderful movement theme and variations emerge from a pelvically
deconstructed salsa with a classic but funky pas de bourree with
a step ball change thrown in next to a ballet variation, but it
works. And it's danced exquisitely. There are some wonderfully playful
moments of hilarity too, such as when Dwana Adiaha Smallwood shoos
away Richard Smallwood as if to say, "Move out of the way man, I
have to finish this solo with a flourish and you ain't in it."
"Pas de Duke," which
follows "Night Creature," is a classic. Breathtaking! That simple.
Variations for Matthew Rushing with mean little spatial piercings
of preparations to turn that flawlessly spiral into triple and quadruple
back attitude turns. Next, Linda Denise Evans steps into multiple
whip turns that seem to take her over and toss her into an effortlessly
perfect arabesque breath of a line. These two, using the classic
competing variation, pas de deux, etc., etc., take it to a new level
by capturing the essence of flirtation and competition in early
courtship. These two creatures dance from deep inside, wiser and
subtler and more playfully than most.
Rushing elicits an instant
mid-dance ovation more than once in his variation. Multiple turns
whipping around into a spiral fall to the floor and up on the knee
pulling himself forward and gone in a flash. Someone in the audience
explodes unable to contain themself, "Yeah!" The spirit is transformed
into movement and it stirs our soul.
"The River" is essentially
a water study. Most choreographers do one at some point early on,
but this is a mature and lush, lyric work. There is an opening solo
for Jerry Gerodias that's filled with mercuric floor work. A sleek
pas de trois complete with beautiful lightly centered promenades
and velvety six o'clock penchees. Linda Denise Evans is an exquisite
moon whose reflection is cast out on a silvery lake at midnight.
'Falls' is an incandescently lit tour de force for four men. A star
in the tradition of Dudley Williams and Clive Thompson is born in
Clifton Brown. You heard it here! Just go see this guy dance. He'll
be given more soon. 'Vortex' is pelvically driven. 'Mainstream'
is a tapestry and a collage filled with interesting tidbits like
a gloss on the petite cygnets variation from "Swan Lake," quirky
head tilts and other gems. 'Twin Cities' starts with a man and woman
on separate sides of the stage in separate downpools. They are dancing
seemingly unrelated solos that overlap sometimes, sometimes not.
Watching them go thru what seem like internal monologues via rehearsal
combinations it is beautiful and touching; one asks oneself, "Could
there be two more different creatures than man and woman?
When the curtain came
up on "Revelations," I knew better than to try to write about it.
Who writes when God is talking? You just listen. Your computer tired
eyes will rejoice in the fact that I put my pen and pad away and
wept and laughed and was transformed once again by the magic and
brilliance of a simple work that is a testament to all those people
in the world who choose hope over defeat, perseverance and celebratory
affirmation in the face of a very cruel, unfair and hateful world.
But I'm not giving Alvin Ailey all the credit on this one, though:
I think God might have put that one together, Ailey was just the
Mark Dendy Dance and
Theatre opens the 2001 Altogether Different festival at the Joyce
Theater on January 10, and also performs January 13 and 14. For
more info, please visit the Joyce's
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