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A Farewell To Sylvia Waters, Modern Moves and Ailey II

April 26, 2012

Ailey II’s Fana Tesfagiorgis in Troy Powell’s Reference Point Photo Eduardo Patino NYC

I grabbed hat and scarf and jetted to the Ailey Citigroup Theater to catch a performance of Ailey II. I had perused the programs offered; there are two, Modern Moves and Contemporary Choices. After a long drawn out internally deliberation I chose Modern Moves which consisted of the work of three choreographers, Thang Dao, Mina Yoo and Ailey II’s Artistic Director Designate Troy Powell.

The evening began with a touching tribute to Sylvia Waters. Ms. Waters, who having guided the company for the past 38 years is retiring. The filmed homage celebrated the woman who has led this amazing troupe of talent since its inception in 1974 and highlighted her many accomplishments beginning with her joining the Alvin Ailey Dance Company in 1968. Ms. Waters, we thank you for your dedication, not just to Ailey II but to dance as a whole. The world is a better place for having you in it.

Ailey II in Thang Dao’s Echoes Photo by Eduardo Patino NYC

The first offering for the evening was “Echoes”, choreographed in 2008 by former company member Thang Dao, it is loosely based on the Dao’s family experience in Vietnam. The structure of the lighting in this piece plays an important role to the work, for it seems to highlight fragments of memories and things remembered. Both Linda O’Brien for the original lighting and Al Crawford for the lighting design must be mentioned for their originality and vision. The floor was a beautiful light aqua blue that help create the inner retrospective feel of the work.

Enough cannot be said about Yusaku Komori, his explosive solo grabbed the audience with his sheer muscularity of frame and intense focus. He flows effortlessly through the dance, the eye immediately finding him when on stage and following him, for he has a unique lyricism and is gifted with an emotional movement quality. His diminutive frame fills the stage with exuberance and excellent technical skill. I could not, cannot get enough of his performance.

“Echoes”, set to the score of Ezio Bosso is filled with lyrical contemplation and by encapsulating dancers in lighting that seems to block out the rest of existence and brings a distant past to the present. Thang creates phrases of movement that marries the music bringing the work a startling beauty. It is an amazing complex and interesting work.

Now Boulevard”, where do I start? Choreographed in 2006 by the former Ailey II member from South Korean Mina Yoo, it began oddly and only got odder from there. The dancers come on stage to whistling, whether it was the sound track or the dancers doing the whistling I still not sure. They stop and start to point, everyone looks, agrees, they repeat this a couple of times, then they gather center-stage as a group, someone breaks off, does a quick solo then rejoins the group and then someone else breaks apart to do their solo. This is done a few times in the dance, both the whistling, the pointing, the grouping and break away solos.

The costumes seem a last-minute decision, beginning in white tee-shirts and blue jeans, then seemed to change intermittently without rhyme or reason. Mr. Komori, who does another solo that was absolutely brilliant, appears in a white briefs and a long sleeve white top. Then three men take the stage in red and black. The three men were brilliant, and with Mr. Komori solo the only two things worth seeing in the whole piece.

Two men come on stage and have a disagreement that was rather athletic in nature. But why they have the disagreement is never clear. Now more dancers run on stage, jumping around, some stand on their hands and some lift each other up. Someone brings on a soccer ball and which the poor dancers are forced to kick around stage and sadly it seemed it was the first time some of the dancers had ever kicked a ball. Then two men bring on a basketball and this was even worse than the segment with the soccer ball, which I did not think that possible.

Sadly dancers can only do so much, regardless of how good they are and these dancers are very good. The sound track which consisted of music from various artists was an assortment of sound and noises that were just plan irritating. I know, this work supposedly “references a familiar neighborhood on the “boulevard” where young people of various cultures and backgrounds interact”. I’ve seen the same statement done much better. Yoo tried to incorporate some hip-hop moves, some street dancing, and even capoeira, but even that seemed forced and contrived.

Ailey II s Yusaku Komori in Mina Yoo’s Boulevard Photo Eduardo Patino NYC

I kept thinking when will this be over or worst yet, I have died, gone to hell for some past transgression and must watch this for eternity. I just don’t get it, and I pretty much like EVERYTHING, never has a work aggravated me so. Sorry!

But with that said Ailey II Artistic Director Designate Troy Powell’s “Reference Point” erased any and all aggravation I still held from the previous work. This piece grabs you from the start, the stage is filled with so much movement it is a feast for the eyes. Fana Tesfagiorgis’s solo was mesmerizing; she captures you with her pure spirit and evident joy of dance. Her legs seem to be able to stretch to heaven and she has such grace in her presence. Her performance was like shining beacon of beauty in the night.

“Reference Point” is broken into five sections featuring a variety of movement that combines ballet, jazz, and contemporary dance set to original music by Mio Morales. Major Nesby and Collin Heyward’s duet can only be described as a visual conversation that was spoken in a language of the body where each listens and sometimes contradicts the other. It was full and somewhat primal in its intensity. In one section six dancers become three couples their movements fast and athletic they move as one, one voice, one statement. There is an undertone of the deep emotionalism to this work.

Thomas Varvaro excelled in all three works. With his long lean line and crisp technical prowess his presence lights up the stage. He has a princely air to him that would be perfect for romantic ballets. He has an exciting career ahead of him and I will be watching expectantly.

“Reference Point is Mr. Powell’s seventh work for Ailey II and as he becomes Artistic Director in June; I for one hope and look forward to more of his work as well as the future of a company jammed packed with talent.

Ailey II is comprised of the most promising scholarship students of The Ailey School and offers unique opportunities for the young artists to refine their technique while gaining invaluable experience during their tenure in the company. The company’s 2011-2012 tour will consist of over 30 cities in the United States and abroad

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