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Flash Review 2, 8-28: Planning Life After Dance
Ailey on Ailey for Ailey Dancers

By Terry Hollis
Copyright 2000 Terry Hollis

The Ailey Dancers' Resource Fund was established to aid performers in that all-important transition from "dance life" to "real life." Helping bridge that gap with career advice and financial assistance, the organization recognizes that there are real lives attached to those beautiful, fluent bodies. Friday night, in the newly air-conditioned fourth floor studio at the Ailey School, company members (1st and 2nd) and students from the school joined forces to show us the wealth of talent and the level of commitment they have given to this stage of their lives. Some, already beginning to hone their choreographic skills.

Most of the evening's works stayed true to the style Alvin Ailey has developed since the company's inception in March of 1958. For the most part, long, slicing legs, arms thrusting upwards calling the heavens and ravishing technique were the order of the day. Imprinted over this, however, was a modern aesthetic and physical sensibility that pushes the idiom to its next stage.

"Ave-s," choreographed by Hope Boykin (formerly of Philadanco) presented what appear to be siblings moving through a synchronized mixture of deep reaching lunges and undulating torsos that are obviously not new to them. The three "brothers" in the first section seem to have an emotional investment but stoically move through the work. Costumed in white, tights and open tops they all feed on the precision and exactness of the other. Where the first trio focused on union, the second duet (featuring Asha Thomas and Clifton Brown) divides the two and places the female in a position of control. The sharp transitions and some sexually ambiguous moments add to the mind games that this sister and brother subject each other to.

Anthony Burrell's "Unmarked Territory" is a hyper-techno driven party. These six brave performers are less concerned with each other and more interested in slamming you in the face with their mastery of ballet's basic requirements. With speed, ferocity and deceptive simplicity Mr. Burrell rockets them through plies, tendues, rond de jambes, battements, etc. and mixes and matches the lot until they become a blur. Incredibly, the dancers manage to impose a cool sexiness over the madness. One of the evening's high points!

The sinuous Lynn Barre and the rocksolid Glenn A. Simms gave Benoit-Swan Pouffer's "Amours Vecus" a primitive energy that kept you focused on every twitch and thrust of their bodies. They each seemed to want something different and the piece read as a negotiation not only between them, but with the ground that they repeatedly dug into. Ms. Barre's ability to dance with her gut makes a beautifully stretched arabesque appear to be as normal a display of emotion as laughing or crying. As the duet ends, the two realize that solace can be found by staying where they are. "In the Space of a Dream," by Kristofer Storey, was an airy, lazy, waltz. Low on dramatic intent, it succeeds in lulling you into the flow of the music (by Silvio Rodriguez Dominguez) and illustrates the softer side of virtuosity.

"Ordinary People," by company member Troy O'Neil Powell, was disappointing. Using a pseudo-political soundtrack that spits out definitions of words such as "man, woman, God, father..." as accompaniment, Mr. O'Neil's choreography does little to illustrate or further the use of these strong references. While he does accomplish an impassive athleticism that mirrors the soundtrack's literate power, it doesn't move forward, and when the piece switches to lyricism, no new information is given.

About three seconds into "Pas de Duke," Alvin Ailey's witty tribute to Duke Ellington's genius, you know that there is a master at work. Matthew Rushing and (the incomparable) Asha Thomas are as sly and understated as they come. They say more with a perfectly timed look or a flirty shrug of a shoulder than a less experienced performer could. Here the soaring legs that the company is famous for are put into perfect context. Glenn A. Sims and Kevin E. Boseman elevate a drunken night on the town to an art form. Their wobbly legs do more than just hold them up; their off-kilter high-jinks are both hilarious and heart warming. Vernard J. Gilmore's classy "Untitled" seemed to be a tribute to the innocent playfulness of the old movie musical. Gilmore (calling up the ghost of Gene Kelly) presented a technically challenging but cavalier solo. The steps skimmed and glided across the floor and weaved in and out of Rachelle Ferrell's riffs.

Perhaps the most subtle work of the night was offered by Kristopher Storey (set by Henry Jackson). In "For All We Know," Mr. Boseman and Derrick Minter painted a simple portrait of two men in love and the pain involved in losing someone. The piece worked on the strength of its simplicity. Pulling and dragging each other across the floor and keeping almost constant contact, "men" were stripped of the loud bravado that so often characterizes us on stage and shown as thinking, feeling creatures.

The evening ended with a bang. Rushing showed the apathetic man against the impassioned, fiery female making her pleas heard. Set to the music of Nina Simone, the piece has these women ripping out their hearts and throwing them piece by piece at their blank-faced counterparts. In the third section, John Avant gives the men their say. Using Graham-inspired floor work, Mr. Avant performs a gut-wrenching solo begging his baby not to go. She sits, as aloof as he is anguished, hears him out, and leaves. The final section presents a battalion of feminine energy -- these women mean business. Coming within inches of the first row, they hit you head on with the power of a woman scorned. Outfitted in black dresses and black heels they were all stabbing legs, piercing looks and hips with lots of history. If these artists tackle their post-performance life with the drive they have given to this one, they will be just fine.

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