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Flash Review: 12-11-99—Fever Swamp

By Wendy Perron
Copyright 1999 Wendy Perron
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Friday at City Center revived Bill T. Jones's "Fever Swamp," which was originally made for it in 1983 as a celebration of brotherhood for six men. Neither fevered nor swampy, the piece may surprise those who think of Jones as an "issues" choreographer. Composer Peter Gordon's infectious "Intervallic Expansion" propels the dancers through playful sequences and witty interactions. The music (on tape) builds momentum thru repetition and shifts over about 11 minutes. Using a quirky vocabulary, Jones achieves a dance momentum here so affecting that we are caught off guard in the final moment. Another achievement is the inclusion of a woman as part of the brotherhood/sisterhood, and not as a sex object for the benefit of the men.This is new since 1983, and Dwana Adia Smallwood dances the part with a gusto at least equal to that of the men.

The set, a wall of tinsel designed by Bill Katz, adds to the lightness. When the dancers come from behind and part the tinsel curtains, its as though they are splashing into or out of water. There is a fresh feel to this piece, especially following Redha's "Lettres D'Amour," a dripping-with-drama technical tour de force. "Fever Swamp" clears the palette. I happen to love this piece of Gordon's music, having considered it myself for a piece in the 70s. So my (re)viewing is colored by my own expectations. Although the dancers performed with brightness and wit, I wish that some of the movements had a slinkiness that I hear in the sliding horns and that I think Jones may have originally intended. Perhaps the pressure on each dancer to be a powerhouse has made certain small movements, for instance, the quick turn of the head, into something sharp and perfect instead of sly or mischievous. But on the whole, this piece is delightful. Liz Prince's wonderfully scrappy costumes in aqua, kelly and ochre contribute to the jester-like mood.

Rumor has it that Jones chose this title because critic Arlene Croce had used this phrase to describe a previous piece of his. With typical ingenuity, he turned things around by using the phrase publicly and unashamedly. Of course, we all know how she got back at him.

On another note, I want to say something about the Ailey that is pretty basic and obvious. I feel, though, that we sometimes need reminding of one of the important achievements of the company. Which is that the audience for the Ailey season is truly diverse in race, class and age. Whatever we say or however we pick on the style of these dancers, their broad appeal is something for all of us to be thankful for.

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