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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre - Night Creature, The River, Urban Folk Dance, Love Stories

by Ilona Wall
December 20, 2006
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

On Wednesday December 20, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre gave a characteristically explosive performance. In a program with two Ailey-choreographed classics, one powerful Ulysses Dove piece, and a collaborative finale, the dancers' electric excitement bounded off the stage and infected the audience. The works dated from 1970, to 2004 and included moments of pure ballet, Horton, African dance, and hip-hop, all of which the dancers took in stride with their usual grace and dignity. Ailey dancers are known for their versatility, and on the 22nd, they blossomed into this reputation.

The two Ailey pieces on the program, Night Creature and The River, used music by Duke Ellington. In Night Creature the women's glittering blue and white dresses did a dance of their own as the dancers swung their hips to the lush and elegant Ellington samba. The mood traveled from "too cool" limp-wristed swaggers, to classic waltzes, to bursts of uncontainable movement that possessed various dancers at different times. Using these styles, Ailey took us from night club to ballet class, while maintaining one single intention as the dancers showed off, blatantly vying for the attention of the audience. This frenzy of movement gave way to a slinky solo danced by Renee Robinson. At its climax Night Creatures led us to a much used Ailey effect as dancers filtered in behind Robinson one by one and shadowed her in unison facing the audience head on. It was a "here's what I got" moment, and the audience took it all.

The River winds its way through seven sections loosely tied together by Ellington's concept "to depict the rise and course of a river from source to sea, with attention given to events on either bank." Ailey's interpretation was less literal than this, though the choreography of each section remained appetizingly musical. In the section entitled "Spring," a bare-chested man, Matthew Rushing, writhed on the floor in a spotlight to a lonely horn solo. Couples entered in lifts and created a gentle rising and falling effect around him, as if in slow motion. This section gave way to "Meander," a trio where the supple Alicia Graf became the point of a triangle with Vernard Gilmore and Antonio Douthit. She remained grounded and joyous as she danced alone and moved between partners with fluttering liquid arms. The River moved from this lyricism, through a bouncing energetic pas de deux entitled "Giggling Rapids," and a touching duet called "Lake" amid a circle of floor kicks resembling water ballet steps, past the dazzling display of four men against a red background in "Falls," through the spinning female "Vortex" solo, and into the humorous "Riba (Mainstream)" where Guillermo Asca amused himself dancing about and was caught in a flood of kick-lines, only to be left alone once more onstage. These sections all culminated with "Twin Cities," where Dwana Adiaha Smallwood and Glenn Allen Sims danced separately in their own pools of light, and finally came together in a slow spiritual duet. As the company entered one at a time behind them and again danced in unison facing forward in a powerful pyramid, the two were ultimately thrown apart and each returned to their respective territory.

Dove's Urban Folk Dance was set to the percussive and staccato score by Michael Torke, and was sandwiched between the two Ailey pieces. In it, two identical sets split the stage, each with a black scrim in back, a wooden table, two wooden chairs, and a single light dangling from above. One couple occupied each set and the couples alternated between creating their own drama and sitting motionless while the story unfolded on the other side of the stage. The movements of both couples were not the same, but both spun and froze, tugged and jumped onto each other and the furniture with aggression and violence. With the women in black housedresses, and the men in white tee shirts and slacks, it felt as though the audience was peering into two kitchen windows, side by side. Eventually, the men entered the same space and battled with each other on stage right, while the women did the same on stage left. The couples then returned to their original juxtaposition and the women in unison helped the men off the floor. After this hopeful moment, the fighting began again. In the end, the couples froze in poses both tender and aggressive. As one couple hugged and the other held hands across the table, they snapped their heads forward in unison to glare at audience indicating that the cycle of violence and aggression would continue.

The evening concluded not with Ailey's classic work Revelations, but with a newer piece that served not only as a crowd-pleasing show-stopper, but also as an eerie tribute to the late Ailey. The genius of Revelations is that (regardless of one's religious orientation) it leaves the audience with a sense of spiritual energy and shared experience reminiscent of a Gospel service. Love Stories successfully induced a similar reaction, but the spiritual element, which came from the tribute to Ailey himself, did seem a bit of a stretch. The piece was a collaborative effort choreographed by Judith Jameson, Robert Battle, and Rennie Harris and set to music by Stevie Wonder and Darrin Ross. When the curtain rose, a light bulb illuminated a dancer, faded, and then lifted off stage. With light that seemed to stream through the windows of a dance studio, Matthew Rushing danced—simply danced—to "If It's Magic," by Stevie Wonder. When the song was over, dancers in warm-ups entered through slits in a black scrim at the back of the stage. They showed off, partnered, and applauded each other as a quote by Alvin Ailey appeared on the scrim declaring that he hoped his company would become a year-round home for modern dance. As it progressed, Love Stories embodied this idea. As the music became "clubbier" and was interspersed with sound clips of Ailey interviewed, the movement morphed from ballet-based jazz, to break-dancing, to hip-hop. Through it all, the energy of the dancers could not be contained. Whether bare-foot, bare-chested, in warm-ups or flowing dresses, they looked as confident and comfortable as dancers could be. And when the dancing came to one of its many climaxes, it all stopped. The black scrim rose to reveal a wall of lights of different shapes, heights, and sizes. The dancers faced the lights hand in hand, and bowed their heads in a solitary moment. As touching as this tribute to Mr. Ailey was, it seemed all the more fitting when they continued to dance with that energy and electricity that had the audience members dancing in their seats, springing to their feet.
AAADT's Clifton Brown and Renee Robinson in Alvin Ailey's The River

AAADT's Clifton Brown and Renee Robinson in Alvin Ailey's The River

Photo © & courtesy of Lois Greenfield


AAADT's Glenn Allen Sims and Linda Celeste Sims in Alvin Ailey's The River

AAADT's Glenn Allen Sims and Linda Celeste Sims in Alvin Ailey's The River

Photo © & courtesy of Lois Greenfield


AAADT's Glenn Allen Sims and Linda Celeste Sims in Alvin Ailey's The River

AAADT's Glenn Allen Sims and Linda Celeste Sims in Alvin Ailey's The River

Photo © & courtesy of Lois Greenfield


Clifton Brown in Love Stories by Judith Jamison with Robert Battle and Rennie Harris

Clifton Brown in Love Stories by Judith Jamison with Robert Battle and Rennie Harris

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik


AAADT Company Members in Love Stories by Judith Jamison with Robert Battle and Rennie Harris

AAADT Company Members in Love Stories by Judith Jamison with Robert Battle and Rennie Harris

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik


Clifton Brown and Linda Celeste Sims in Urban Folk Dance by Ulysses Dove

Clifton Brown and Linda Celeste Sims in Urban Folk Dance by Ulysses Dove

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik


Matthew Rushing and Dwana Adiaha Smallwood in Urban Folk Dance by Ulysses Dove

Matthew Rushing and Dwana Adiaha Smallwood in Urban Folk Dance by Ulysses Dove

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik


Matthew Rushing and Dwana Adiaha Smallwood in Urban Folk Dance by Ulysses Dove

Matthew Rushing and Dwana Adiaha Smallwood in Urban Folk Dance by Ulysses Dove

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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