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Joanna G. Harris
Performance Reviews
Cal Performances: Zellerbach Auditorium
United States
San Francisco Bay Area
Berkeley, CA

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater - 'Home', 'Minus 16' & 'Revelations'

by Joanna G. Harris
March 13, 2012
Cal Performances: Zellerbach Auditorium
101 Zellerbach Hall #4800
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720
Joanna G. Harris
Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
The 'reborn' Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, now under the Artistic Direction of Robert Battle, was at Zellerbach Auditorium this week and as usual brought down the house. For opening night, Tuesday, March 13, the company performed Rennie Harris' "Home", Ohad Naharin's "Minus 16", and concluded as the company often does, with their signature work "Revelations".

Harris' "Home" was a pastiche of hip-hop featuring Matthew Rushing (as an apparent outcast from the group) whose 'cool' coupled with his fast footwork and easy motion provided the central focus of the work. Ailey seems to be born to do hip-hop, though as trained dancers, they are far from the wild displays that can be seen on Oakland street corners.

Alicia Graf Mack captured attention with her long stretches and ease of motion as she took stage with various partners. There was a subtext: the piece reflects a community's attitude towards AIDS. That's there, but more accessible to audiences was the dancers skill and pleasure in performing and their use of club style dance steps. Harris' choreography could use better organization; the piece drifts in and out of good visual design. Maybe that's hip-hop: individuals doing what they can do and do well.

Ohad Naharin's "Minus 16" was seen in San Francisco some years ago and was familiar to some, but for others it was all new and just wonderful. The first section, in chairs, was performed to the Passover song, "Echad Mi Yodea" (Who Knows One?). In succession during the song's chorus the dancers flung themselves from seated positions arms raised with one of them falling at the end of each verse. Some say it's a reflection on the holocaust.

A poignant duet followed set to Vivaldi's "Stabat Mater" and beautifully danced by Ghrai DeVore and Kirven James Boyd. Then the mood shifted. Some dancers left the stage and chose members of the audience (who were wearing red) to join them in a cha-cha version of "Somewhere over the Rainbow". A long session of couples dancing challenged the company as they coped with the audience member's skills (or lack thereof). One woman, Jean Wilcox, a San Francisco librarian, earned kudos and rousing applause, after being the only one standing after everyone else on stage fell down.

Finally, the company performed "Revelations", Alvin Ailey's 1960 masterpiece. It has been performed every year, at every show, since then. For this viewer, it has lost some of it's 'spiritual' quality as the technical versatility of each dancer emerged. I was disappointed in Guillermo Asca in "I want to be ready", since memories of Dudley Williams' performances in the role are still strong for me, but Demetia Hopkins, Matthew Rushing and Renee Robinson did fine in "Wade in the Water". By the time "Revelations" closed with "Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham", the audience was on its feet, clapping for joy.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Rennie Harris' 'Home'

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Rennie Harris' "Home"

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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