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Flash Review, 12-8: Boom, Boom, Boom.... Sigh
De Lavallade Takes Ailey Back to the Foundations

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2000 Susan Yung

In the world premiere of "Sweet Bitter Love" last night at City Center, Carmen de Lavallade conveyed the sincere emotional depth that has made the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater famous and beloved. In the context of the evening's program, which included works by artistic director Judith Jamison ("Divining" and "Double Exposure") and Ronald K. Brown ("Grace") it served as a blatant reminder of the company's foundations, which were sadly missing in most of the rest of the program.

"Sweet Bitter Love" featured Renee Robinson and Glenn Sims as a couple in various states of love. Dancing to pop songs from the not-too-distant past sung by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, the performers wore elegant evening-wear costumes by Geoffrey Holder. Sims captured the conflicting male sensibilities of yearning and stoicism, while Robinson played the perfect romantic foil. The choreography incorporated spans of attenuated movement and settling stillness; de Lavallade captured in quick moments the iconography of longing and sorrow, wisely finding no need to repeat movements numerous times. The evocative music played a significant role in sustaining the heightened emotional state, choreographed by a knowing, deft hand.

Jamison's "Divining" showed off the talents of the company's men to a percussion score by Kimati Dinizulu and Monti Ellison. However, it seemed like the dancers were in tension the whole time; I wanted them to release their energy more. Her second work, "Double Exposure," used a tiny video camera held by one of the dancers; the image was occasionally projected onto a split screen, alternating with abstract morphs and matrices. The two men (Jeffrey Gerodias and Clifton Brown) were given much more interesting sections, while the three women (Briana Reed, Rosalyn Sanders, and Tina Williams) were relegated to minor roles and supplicating moves, which was a bit puzzling. The vocabulary, predominated by double and triple turns and limitless fan kicks, repeated itself in no time; it was like reading a newspaper full of repetitive headlines and no factual text. Boom, boom, boom.

Ron Brown's "Grace" capped the program, which was a good thing because it was exhausting to watch, especially following "Double Exposure." The first ten minutes of hard-driving, explosive choreography, a blend of African dance with hip-hop tweaks and a martial arts attitude, was exhilarating. After that, it became a marathon, at least for the audience. Performed to a collage of throbbing music, it looked immensely more fun to perform than it felt to watch. Brown has a totally refreshing new take on African dance; if he would alter the dynamics within a long work such as this, it would surely reveal even more of his talent.

So, it was Ailey: Of course there was impressive virtuosity and a fusillade of technical tours de force. But the presence of "Sweet Bitter Love" was a proof that power and driving rhythms can be balanced with gentleness and serenity with no loss of impact. Just because the dancers can perform all that hard stuff for that long doesn't mean they must.

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