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A Review of Ailey II

by Robert Abrams
March 18, 2003
Aaron Davis Hall
138 Convent Avenue
The City College of New York between 133rd and 135th Streets on Convent Avenue
New York, NY 10031
(212) 650-6900

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

A Review of Ailey II

By Robert Abrams
March 18, 2003

The difference between the twelve dancers of Ailey II and the highest level is perhaps a matter of holding poses a fraction of a second longer. Sometimes the difference was so small as to be mostly undetectable.

Ailey II is the Alvin Ailey Dance Company's junior troupe. They gave a series of performances at the Aaron Davis Hall this weekend (March 14-16, 2003 - West 135th Street and Convent Avenue in New York City). Ailey II was Alvin Ailey's idea. The troupe has been in existence for 11 years. They are an important part of the fabric of the community, both Ailey's community and beyond.

Ailey II presented a three act program on the evening of March 14. Using very appealing choreography, the dancers were shown to good effect both as a group and as individuals. Some of the works presented, especially parts of The Tyner Project (choreography by Troy Powell) in the first act, had a pop sensibility while staying true to Ailey style. This was all the more remarkable since the music (by McCoy Tyner) was more sophisticated jazz than it was pop. I thought this was a good choice. Modern dance is often difficult, sometimes on purpose, so it is important to have choreography that bridges the gap between modern dance and dance with which the next generation of potential dance fans feels comfortable. A junior company, such as Ailey II, is the perfect vehicle to present such works to that next generation.

Act I was also a good vehicle for Ailey II because it presented a variety of styles. In addition to the pop influenced sections, there were sections that were very balletic, and other sections which were almost Broadway. It was a well-paced showcase with contrasting tempos. The dancers (Robert Halley, Brandye Lee, Leyland Simmons, Khilea Douglass, Kirven J. Boyd, Marimba Gold-Watts, Willy Laury, Sharron L. Williams, Chris Jackson, Katherine Horrigan, Kristina Michelle Bethel and Zach L. Ingram) had enthusiasm to spare and plenty of style.

In the Desert Cry section, Kristina Michelle Bethel had very clean pauses and a commanding presence.

Act II began with Divining, a work with African styling choreographed by Judith Jamison. The dancers had amazing slow leg extensions. The dancing was characterized by a melding of staccato and stillness. This was a passionate and phenomenal work of art.


A representation of the staccato turns used in Divining

Next up was Journey featuring Kristina Michelle Bethel (choreography by Joyce Trisler). Ms. Bethel demonstrated incredibly plastic movement (as in bendable, not fake). She moved like she was made of a fourth generation polymer. At times she was present and at times she was ethereal. The lighting (originally by Chenault Spence and for this production by Timothy Hunter) was used effectively to enhance the emotional quality of the movement.

The final work in Act II was The Hunt (choreography by Robert Battle). This work was last reviewed when performed by the David Parsons Dance Company. The all-male dancers wore monk-like long skirts.


Ailey II performs The Hunt
Photo by Natalie Laruccia

The music was very convincing , but it felt a little flat. I think we are used to this kind of a wall of sound, but it does show that the Broadway musicians have a point about the negative aspects of virtual orchestras.

The dancers were a constant force. They were like strong epileptics running a marathon. At the end of this work, the dancers got a well deserved standing ovation.

Act III included five short exerpts of longer works. Blues Suite (choreography by Alvin Ailey) was danced like a very smooth train ride. Streams (choreography by Alvin Ailey) was a ballet without shoes. Hidden Rites (choreography by Alvin Ailey) was a work in an African style. Isba was very smooth. The dancers were clearly happy while dancing (as they should be). The brightness of their movements matched the brightness of the light and the music. This dance had the style of modern dance, but the sweeping romanticism of American Foxtrot.

The final work of the night was an excerpt from Escapades (choreography by Alvin Ailey). This was a rousing finish that exhibited qualities of both social dancing and technically masterful stage dancing. It felt like they were dancing with each other and not just at the same time as each other, even when the patterns were anything but social.

Overall, Ailey II delivered an outstanding performance. The next time they grace a stage, make sure you get tickets. If this is the future of Modern dance, we have a lot of great dancing to look forward to.

Ailey II photo essay by Natalie Laruccia - slide show

Ailey II photo essay by Natalie Laruccia - all pictures on one page

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