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Flash Review 1, 5-24:
Heating Up New York
Palpable Warmth at Ailey School Concert
By Tom Patrick
Copyright 2000 Tom Patrick
Wow, what a difference
in climate there was last night: the cold and soggy New York streets
compared to the prevailing warmth inside the John Jay Theater. I
certainly had a decent share of curiosity and reservations over
attending the Ailey school's spring show -- reservations from having
been mystified sometimes in the past by the Ailey company's aesthetic
-- and still overwhelmingly more curiosity, because there are few
places of as diverse and comprehensive dance training as the Ailey,
and theirs is a thriving organization. Indeed, the latter probably
contributed to the palpable atmosphere of warmth among the attendees,
the embrace that all seemed to offer to the performers. And might
I say in advance, that embrace was richly deserved and oft-returned,
as this performance was a stunner.
After some welcoming
remarks from Ailey school director Denise Jefferson and Ailey II's
artistic director Sylvia Waters -- citing encouraging enrollment
and exciting touring, respectively -- the program opened with an
excerpt from the beloved "Cry." Choreographed in 1971 by Alvin Ailey,
this passion piece is captioned "For all Black women everywhere
-- especially our mothers." The first company's Dwana Adiaha Smallwood
tore it up in a fast lead-off finale... To the thumping music in
the color-saturated lighting (a la Chenault Spence), she was all
sinuous arms and rippling spine, skyrocketing extensions and whipping
neck. Quite a feat to open the concert with a section obviously
requiring such momentum. Finely done, and in her later moments she
was joined by eight girls from the Ailey school likewise dressed
in pure white and dancing with joy. They shadow the soloist and
all snake off stage-left. After their bow and exit, a ninth girl
happens in, in her Level X class-wear, repeating the themes, and
is treated to a moment of coaching from Ms. Smallwood. It is a charming
moment's exchange, yet an eloquent testament to the dance world's
life-cycle. In the end, it's about pushing the envelope a bit, and
passing on what you've discovered, right?
Next came three works
by artists in residence Ronald K. Brown, Igal Perry, and Christopher
Huggins. All three works were choreographed in AD 2000, and all
three were perfect fits on their casts. Mr. Brown's "Migration 1&2"
was grounded and tough, a taut accumulation of torsion and accented
changes of direction. My focus was at Brown's mercy as groups dissolved
and reformed marvelously, like fires springing up from coals. This
could only have been accomplished through the clarity and skill
of these dancers, who were clearly relishing the movement and the
Igal Perry's "Conversations"
caught me off-guard at first, for after four male-female couples
had completed a fluid partnering section to a bit of Bach motet,
an onstage drummer (Damien Bessman (?) on drumset) interjected.
The tone of the dancers' conversation raised in pitch too, as their
twinings became a little harder-edged. Periodically there would
be Bach, and then a gutsy soliloquy from the drums. It was tinged
with emotional responses to both musical modes which blended pretty
well at the seams, avoiding patchiness, and again the student octet
performing were the glue, the stitches. They're articulate and daring,
at all levels from floor to air. The drumming was terrific too,
and I fell into thinking about the spiritual callings from both
of the musical styles (the other was excerpts of Bach's "Motet for
8").... Different approaches to transcendence?
"Some City" (a work in progress) was a bright blast of urbanization,
of a very appealing sort. Wearing unique-to-each costumes of black
shorts/leos accented in silver (kudos to the choreographer and Elena
Comendador,) fourteen virtuosi thrilled us with taut, ballistic,
and flung phrases. They were great out there, all of 'em, walking
purposefully or tearing into Huggins's material. They beamed. This
was a dance where all the elements conspired for a patently hot
performance, and it was smartly lit by Josh Bradford, all to a [surprisingly?]
interesting and driving score by Steve Reich.
After intermission, a
moody piece, "Still Falling" by Max Luna III, which was soulfully
danced solo by Mary Hudetz. To aching strings (was it a duo?) composed
by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, the oh-so-leggy Ms. Hudetz slinked across
'inconspicuously' before declaring herself and sweeping into a lyric
reverie punctuated by soaring turns.
Following this were works
by three other contemporary choreographers, all generated in 1999.
(Were these artists-in-residence from the previous year?) Under
the heading "Triad" were works by Robert Battle, Earl Mosley, and
Mr. Battle's "Mood Indigo"
took it's title from John Mackey's music, and his inspiration therein
is easy to understand. The pieces are off-kilter, asymmetric and
headed forward hard, and Mr. Battle's three duets are three distinct
portraits. "Sweet Boogie" is bouncy and hand-to-hand, a caper and
a social dance, whereas "Sour Heart" is slow, precise and sculptural,
filled with dramatic imagery. "Bitter Jig" is serious competition
between equals, in a relentless dance-cathalon with a thrilling
reprise. Battle's keenness to this music is key here, and it pays
off in terms of these duets' architecture and tone.
Earl Mosley's "Give And
Take" followed, and was captioned "Within the moments of silence
your word still feels like music." A fine sentiment, but I found
few opportunities for any such eloquent stillnesses. Backed-up by
a luscious wordless "vocalese" by Etta James, Tina Williams and
Anthony Burrell seem a little too wound-up for subtle feelings,
having to cover the stage so incessantly within a sparse and shallow
vocabulary. Made me a little nervous, but not very excited. I wondered,
when the music faded and then restarted, what was going on. That
brief pause was refreshing, and I do love Etta James!
Third in this triad Was
Scott Rink's "Solitude" (this Ellingtonian title came from the Duke's
song of that name). More lyrical in nature, this work was filled
with inventive partnering moments and some lovely swooping passages.
It was maturely danced by Rosalyn Sanders and Samuel Deshauteurs,
tasteful and gracious partners. There was a pleasing swirl to it,
but the couple stayed close throughout, which also had me scratching
my head over "solitude."
Closing this terrific
assortment of dances, dancers, and music was another Ailey Classic:
"Revelations" (excerpts from the section 'Move, Members, Move').
Performed by Ailey II members and a trio of "Sinner" men -- Amos
J. Machanic Jr, Jeffrey Gerodias, and Clifton Brown -- from the
Ailey [main]company, this brought down the house and sent me out
of my seat. The students were going nuts in the balcony, the alums
murmering with delight as those daredevil men squeezed those phrases,
vaulted through the air, and made that floor still hotter. I must
confess I love this dance, and am so tickled every time the ladies
enter in their big hats, with their stools and fans. And "Rocka
My Soul..." had everyone cheering and grinning. It was quite a finish,
to a concert that showed a large spectrum of choreographers/ies
and a mission to pass the flame. . . . Please don't think me presumptuous
for believing Mr. Ailey would have been very proud of his artistic
family last night.
(Editor's note: To see
a video clip of the Ailey company, go to http://www.alvinailey.org/
and click on Video Clip. Warning: The file is large and could take
as long as ten minutes or more to download. But it's very cool.)
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