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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at New York City Center

December 15, 2011
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Kirven James Boyd. Photo by Andrew Eccles

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Kirven James Boyd. Photo by Andrew Eccles

It seems that the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in the right hands. This is Robert Battle’s first season as Artistic Director after the retirement of Judith Jamison. I would say he is on the right track. He introduced himself on stage before the performance, letting us know what we were to see and to whet our appetites. He won us all with his charm and personality.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey's Streams. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey's Streams. Photo by Paul Kolnik

The first on the night’s program was Streams, choreographed by Mr. Ailey and restaged by associate artistic director Masazumi Chaya. Created in 1970, it was the first full-length dance he created without a plot. Steams, billed as a new production, is steeped in history. We see the vital influences that were preeminent in dance at that time, evident are the incorporation of Martha Graham’s body contractions, Merce Cunningham’s use of abstract groupings and exactly where Mr. Ailey was in developing his own unique signature. One reviewer said the work was dated, I strongly disagree! Its historic significance of this work must be put into perspective. This work has a pairing of two men and Mr. Ailey was once again ahead the times, especially for 1970. Set to Miloslav Kabelac’s “Eight Inventions” (Op. 45) movement is explored for movement’s sake. The choreography is more academic in structure and shape then we are accustomed to seeing today. But, it is because of such works that we have the diversity and range of movement we are now experiencing. I applaud and thank Mr. Battle for placing such a significant piece of dance history with in the repertory.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Kirven James Boyd in Robert Battles Takademe. Photo by Andrew Eccles

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Kirven James Boyd in Robert Battles Takademe. Photo by Andrew Eccles

Takademe choreographed by Robert Battle is just sheer Genius. It is new to the repertory of Ailey, having previously been performed by Ailey II; it is one of Mr. Battle’s first creations. Takademe is the exploration and deconstruction of Indian Kathak dance movements. With Naren Budhakar performing live Sheila Chandra’s rhythmic vocal score, Kirven James Boyd was brilliant in this demanding and complex work, exhibiting both virtuosity and humor. Mr. James matched each note and percussive syllable, giving the complexity of the choreography a voice that sang a note of individualism and physical perfection.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Rennie Harris' Home. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Rennie Harris' Home. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Home created by Rennie Harris was inspired by the real stories and images from the ten first place winners of the 2011 REYATAZ “Fight HIV Your Way” contest. Since its inception in 2006, the contest has leveraged the power of words and the visual arts as a platform to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS among the general public and inspire people impacted by the disease to continue their fight.

Home premiered on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1st and which is also the day that founder, Alvin Ailey, passed away from the disease in 1989. This is a potent emergence into the underground club scene of the early 80’s. Reminiscent of the glory days of Paradise Garage and other downtown dance clubs that were a sub-culture unto themselves, this was before AIDS/HIV, when the glory of living and being truly alive could be found on the dance floor to the pulsing/pounding rhythms of house music.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Rennie Harris' Home. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Rennie Harris' Home. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Mr. Harris, known for his hip-hop choreographer, has successfully captured the voice and sentiment of a generation, a generation that was almost annihilated by the ravages of the disease. With a smoky stage and subdued lighting, dressed in comfortable clothes that allowed for all night dancing he shows the beauty of a time. Anyone who sees this piece and was a participant in the downtown dance scene of the 80’s will be as deeply moved as I was.

Home is filled with explosive passion and shouts the joy of life. With dancers gathered together in the center of stage moving rhythmically to gospel house music of Dennis Ferrer and Raphael Xavier, they pulse with the rhythm and occasionally someone would lift up their hand in praise to the beat. Matthew Rushing separates himself from the crowd finding his own groove. It is a moving and poignant portrait, a reminder of what was robbed from us and what is still there that must be celebrated.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Ohad Naharin's Minus 16. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Ohad Naharin's Minus 16. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Ohad Naharin defies classification. There is no box big enough or category with enough range to place him; henceforth he must stand unique and independently alone. I approached the performance of Minus 16, with trepidation having not cared for Three to Max that I had seen during City Center’s Fall for Dance. So to say that Ohad Naharin’s “Minus 16 “ blew me away would be an understatement. “Minus 16” is based on excerpts from other pieces in Naharin’s repertory, including “Mabul” (1992), “Anaphaza” (1993) and “Zachacha” (1998). He has rearranged, redefined and pieced together a totally independent work.

With an eclectic score with sounds ranging from Dean Martin to Mambo, techno and traditional Israeli music, Minus 16 is a masterpiece of ingenuity and risk-taking. Most of the audience did not realize the performance had even begun.  Samuel Roberts, dressed in a black suit and white shirt, just stands in front of the curtain and looks out at the crowd with the house lights still up. Then Mr. Roberts begins slow and tiny undulations, an internal dance of small movements we have all done at some time or another when listening to a favorite song, perhaps in your kitchen or bedroom when you are alone.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Ohad Naharin's Minus 16. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Ohad Naharin's Minus 16. Photo by Paul Kolnik

He expands his movement somewhat and the curtain raises and from there he goes from his small internal dance to fanciful footwork akin to Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly. Samuel Roberts who must be commended for his performance of sheer virtuosity and clever use of humor sets the tone. Slowly other dancers join him on stage and it begins. Mr. Naharin has incorporated his exciting “Gaga” method, which is based on the exploration of each person’s individualism; he has created a new experience for the audience.

At the start dancers are standing in semi-cycle with chairs directly behind them, they sit and we hear a haunting voice say …”The illusion of beauty and the fine line that separates madness from sanity, the panic behind the laughter and the coexistence of fatigue and elegance”. Then begins the traditional “Echad Mi Yodea” (“Who Knows One?”) , a Hebrew song that is traditional associated with Passover. Utilizing all 13 versions, they periodically stand and sing out, “She ba-shamaim u va-aretz” (“Who is in the heaven and the earth?”). All the while the dancers sit, stand and incorporate every possible way to use a chair in dance.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Ghrai DeVore and Kiven J. Boyd in Ohad Naharin s Minus 16. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Ghrai DeVore and Kiven J. Boyd in Ohad Naharin s Minus 16. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Kirven James Boyd and Ghrai DeVore are electric in their duet which blended sensuality and tenderness with an undertone of aggression. Mr. Boyd lifts Ms. DeVore and seems to suspend her by her neck only to lower her tenderly to the floor. Ms. DeVore is beautifully majestic in her movement and Mr. Boyd matches her with his masculinity and confidence of expression.

Mr. Naharin has blended improvisational elements with audience participation, bringing up unsuspecting audience members onto the stage for some social dancing. Ailey dancers jitterbug some and then with eyes closed with such tenderness rests the head on their partner’s shoulder and slow dance with them, regardless if their partner is a foot or so smaller than they are.

Minus 16 is one of the most dynamic and original work I have seen. If you are a dance enthusiast you want this on your bucket list! We the audience we totally enmeshed in the performance as attactive participants. We all left feeeling elated with a smile on our faces.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

New York City Center

Nov. 30 – Jan. 1

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