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Alvin Ailey - a review

by Robert Abrams
December 8, 2002
New York City Center
130 West 56th Street
(Audience Entrance is on West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
(Entrance for Studios and Offices is on West 56th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
New York, NY 10019
212.247.0430

Featured Dance Company:

Alvin Ailey Dance Theater
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
405 West 55th Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 405-9000
www.alvinailey.org

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

www.alvinailey.org


Alvin Ailey - Founder
Judith Jamison - Artistic Director
Joan H. Weill, Chairman of The Board of Trustees
Masazumi Chaya - Associate Artistic Director
Sharon Gersten Luckman —Executive Director
James King, General Manager
Amadea Edwards, Administrative Manager
Bernice Collins, Company Manager
Jodi Pam Krizer, Director, Marketing and Public Relations
Lynette Rizzo, Marketing Manager
Beth Olsen - Public Relations Manager
Cohn Davis Associates—Publicity

Review by Robert Abrams
December 8, 2002

The Alvin Ailey Dance Company is a modern dance company, with all of the choreographic daring this usually implies. Yet, they also manage to transcend the usual limitations of modern dance. By this I mean that even if Ailey's works generally lack narrative and defined characters, the dancers actually smile. They have expressions on their faces. You can look them in the eye and see that they are dancers who reveal their joy for dancing while they are dancing, rather than just being geometric forms in a picture.

Tonight Ailey presented three very different works.

The first, Caravan, is an exuberant succession of movements. As I mentioned above, the dancers were smiling. The first movement was characterized by a series of machines: groups of dancers where each action seems to precipitate the next so that an ongoing pattern is created. The second movement slowed things down with a witty use of seemingly awkward block sandals. I especially liked the way the lone dancer was counterposed against a line of dancers hidden behind a curtain so that the audience could only see their feet. The final movement returned to exuberance, echoing elements of the first movement.

As I commented recently about Aleksandra Gisher and Paul Green, one mark of superior dancing can be seen when the dancers are moving when they are moving, and are still when they are still. The Alvin Ailey Dance Company can field a stage full of dancers who meet this standard.

At the end of Caravan, the whole company was glistening: you know they are working.

The second work, Apex, is a dark tone poem. It clearly had a message since words were projected on stage, but it wasn't so clear what it was about. Some passages suggested it might be about domestic abuse, but other passages did not support this interpretation. In the beginning of the end, one dancer spoke into a microphone and her words were suggestive but not clear. Finally, in the end, her words were clear, revealing Apex to be about the deportation of an asylum seeker who couldn't make himself understood.

At the end, one could see the inverted Brechtian structure that guides Apex's meaning. In a Brechtian structure the "what" is laid out at the start so that the audience can focus on the "how". In Apex, the what is laid out at the end so that looking backwards, both the what and the how are apparent, even if they weren't while the work was being presented. This approach created a frustrating tension between movement and message which seems to interfere with the dance while you are watching it, but which adds to it in retrospect.

The final work of the night, Revelations, is an Ailey classic. It is a seamless union of modern dance and Gospel. It has a story, but it is less a narrative than a slice of life. There is much to like in this work. I will point out just two moments that are emblematic of the strength and technique which Ailey dancers bring to their work. There is a moment when a dancer comes out of a very fast free spin with perfect poise and balance so that he moves to the next sequence without the least stumble. The second moment is less obvious and you may need to be a dancer yourself to fully appreciate it. There is a moment where two dancers are in partnership and the man leads a drop. This was similar to the move in Ballroom known as a "death drop" except that the Ailey dancers did this move as a slow drop, perfectly smooth and continuous. The level of control both dancers need to execute this smoothly and safely, as they did, can not be underestimated.

At the end of the evening, when the dancers finally stopped dancing , the audience picked up where they left off. If the audience had had their way, they would have kept the company on stage with applause until the morning.

As a postscript, while it is difficult to top Revelations, I think it is possible. Imagine a staging of Revelations with a live Gospel choir. Done with the right stage balance of dancers and singers, THAT would raise the roof.


Renee Robinson
Ballet: Apex
Choreographer: Francesca Harper
Photo by Paul Kolnik



Company Members
Ballet: Caravan
Choreographer: Louis Falco
Photo by Paul Kolnik



Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell
Ballet: Caravan
Choreographer: Louis Falco
Photo by Paul Kolnik



Briana Reed and Amos J. Machanic, Jr.
Ballet: Revelations
Choreographer: Alvin Ailey
Photo by Paul Kolnik



Renee Robinson
Ballet: Revelations
Choreographer: Alvin Ailey
Photo by Paul Kolnik



Company Members
Ballet: Revelations
Choreographer: Alvin Ailey
Photo by Paul Kolnik



Company Members
Ballet: Revelations
Choreographer: Alvin Ailey
Photo by Paul Kolnik

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