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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 article.

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 vessel.


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 web site.

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