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Flash Review, 12-13: Ailey Strikes a Balance
I Should Have Paid for It!

By Terry Hollis
Copyright 2000 Terry Hollis

I really think I should have paid for this concert. As I sat there last night at City Center watching the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, it occurred to me that I really should have paid for these tickets. I have always had a love/hate relationship with this company: Love, because I have never seen dancers like this, technical sheen and charisma up the yin-yang. Hate, because sometimes that charisma comes off as abrasive and tends to outshine the choreography. But last night the Ailey struck a perfect balance between the two. Yes, the legs were in the Heavens and the faces painted every emotional palette there is, but they worked together and every piece on the program got what it deserved. Even the sometimes manic choreography of Dwight Rhoden was clear, clean, and nicely delivered. None of the ferocity lost. The balletic lines of the opening piece, Alvin Ailey's "Streams," formed picture-perfect images against the backdrop and the Ailey dancers were just as clear.

"Streams" has the stark, linear, monochromatic look of "modern ballet." The opening even makes reference to the infamous "Kingdom of the Shades" section of "La Bayadere," with dancers entering the space one by one doing variations of arabesques and extensions. The diagonal continues and what starts as legs performing the same shapes over and over becomes legs almost conducting the score by Miloslav Kabelac. Each of the eight sections is short and to the point: the acidic duet danced by Venus Hall and Glenn A. Sims stays tight around the center of the stage and suddenly disappears stage right as quickly as it started; the Scherzo, danced by Richard Witter and Jeffrey Gerodias, rips from one diagonal to the next and is practically sucked off-stage. The thematic attitude step that brings the dancers on and carries them off keep this piece in action and the final tableau of couples and individuals bringing back all the physical motifs make this a study in continuity.

"Chocolate Sessions," choreographed by Rhoden, was a welcome treat. As I said above, Mr. Rhoden has great chops for making movement (and a lot of it), but sometimes you can't tell because he tends to pack the stage with about as much as the eye can handle. That's why "Chocolate Sessions" is such a relief. The company delivers his steps with as much clarity as you could want and Rhoden has set his three couples on opposite corners of the stage, giving them breaks in the movement when another dancer enters the stage. He actually gives the eyes a chance to rest between each section, by having the dancers just stand there or by creating very real moments of intimacy between them that don't just read as drama. A special thank you to Asha Thomas for burning a hole through that fourth wall.

Ronald K. Brown's "Grace" put the evening squarely on its feet. While the other pieces presented things in a slightly ethereal package, "Grace" let us see what the human side looks like. Mr. Brown's choreography blends the lines of ballet with traditional African dance and sets the whole thing to a pulsing club beat. Mixed in with the strains of "Come Sunday" by Duke Ellington and set in shafts of light criss-crossing the stage, the piece has dancers hammer out the steps confronting each other and an unseen other. Matthew Rushing's lone warrior reconciling his business was a stand-out, as was Renee Robinson's celestial entrance bathed in a glow of white light. As the piece ends the dancers file out at the back of the stage, while Jennifer Holiday sings "...Sunday is the day" and you know all of the sweat and the strain is worth it. The evening closed with Judith Jamison's "Hymn," with music by Robert Ruggieri. Created as an homage to Alvin Ailey's life and teachings, it features sound bites by the dancers, recounting personal stories and offering comments on life in general. Dressed in basic rehearsal wear, the dancers recall moments of Ailey's choreography and even sections of class. While it seems a little erratic, it stands as a loving reminder.

The Ailey company continues on at City Center through December 31.

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