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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater - Memoria, Night Creature, Phases, Opus Mcshann, A Song for You, For "Bird" – With Love, Hidden Rites, Cry and Revelations

by Robert Abrams
December 14, 2007
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

www.alvinailey.org
The show tonight included Memoria, Night Creature, Phases, Opus Mcshann, A Song for You, For "Bird" – With Love, Hidden Rites, Cry and Revelations – all choreographed by Alvin Ailey. While the evening was filled with beautiful dancing, what really gets me going are structures that can be extracted from a dance for the benefit of the field. Memoria proved amenable to such analysis, and as such, would have been enough on its own to make the evening.

The structure I saw in Memoria was a mathematical function known as a topology. A topology is a geometrical set that can be stretched in space without being torn apart (Topology on Wikipedia). For instance, if one started with a donut with one hole, the donut could be made larger or smaller, twisted or reshaped from circular to elliptical and it would still be the same topology even though at first glance each variant might look very different. On the other hand, if one punched a second hole in the donut, it would no longer be the same topology.

Memoria uses three dancers as points of reference. The triangle formed by the dancers reverses orientation, compacts and shifts, but is never torn apart. There is a section with a solo and a duet, but then the triangle reasserts itself. The other dancers form a second set that moves around and between the first set. Sometimes the sets use different movements and sometimes similar movements. The sets are also delineated by different costumes.

Memoria provides evidence that choreographers could use the study of topology as a way to create non-obvious, but coherent structures, with variations that play off of those structures, that could serve as the basis of long form works of dance able to sustain audiences' interest.

Memoria's structure was so strong that I ended up seeing triangles in other, unrelated works on the evening's program.

It should be noted that I was sitting in the balcony. I might not have seen the patterns had I been sitting in the orchestra. Memoria would be worth seeing again to see what other insights it might offer from other perspectives. (And as an aside on the topic of research methods, this viewing provides some confirmation that there is no such thing as purely objective observation: all observations are influenced by the frame of the observer. Bias can be minimized by being aware of our subjectivities and triangulating multiple observers and data collection methods.)

The first section of Revelations (Pilgrim of Sorrow/I Been 'Buked) featured a mass triangle formed by the whole company. The triangle dispersed and coalesced. My hunch is that the dancers were forming the visible portion of a topology that exists in four dimensions, but I would have to consult someone who knows more higher math than I do in order to confirm this hypothesis.

Phases/Flight Time had a disco sensibility without being disco. The second section of Opus Mcshann, Doo Wah Doo, had a Lindy sensibility without being Lindy (although some portions of some of the dances were real partner dance). Hidden Rites felt like African dance, partly because of the drums, without being strictly such. Put together, the evening's program showed the Ailey company's ability to draw on a range of dance influences and make all of them look both compelling and their own with the Ailey company's usual strength, precision, stable holds and finished moves.

Tonight's outing to City Center was organized by Erik Novoa (www.swingshoes.net, a talented competitive partner dancer and instructor who has been known to stretch his own performances into modern dance on occasion as well. Many of the twelve people in our group have taken Erik's classes or attended his parties, so the evening was proof that bringing the worlds of dance together can help grow and strengthen the dance community.
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