- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 19, 2001

"I do love both companies theyre family," dancer-chor-eographer Carmen de Lavallade, 70, says. The living legend is talking about the two companies appearing at the Kennedy Center this week and next. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater concludes its engagement this weekend, and Dance Theatre of Harlem performs next week.
The two are the most important black American dance companies in the country, and Miss de Lavallade is playing a role here with each. "Sweet Bitter Love," which she choreographed, will be performed by the Ailey company at tomorrows matinee. Miss de Lavallade will take to the stage herself next week and dance the role of Giselles mother in Dance Theatre of Harlems "Creole Giselle" Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Miss de Lavallade started early making a difference in dance. When she was in high school in Los Angeles, she persuaded fellow student Alvin Ailey to take dance classes with her.
Through the years, she has performed with the Lester Horton Dance Theatre, Aileys own company and the American Ballet Theatre where she danced a leading role in Agnes de Milles "The Four Marys." In the cast was another up-and-coming dancer, Judith Jamison, who now directs the Ailey company.
Before settling in New York, Miss de Lavallade appeared in several films, including "Carmen Jones," choreographed by Herbert Ross. Mr. Ross asked her to join him when he was mounting the musical "House of Flowers" on Broadway. It was there she first worked with Arthur Mitchell, who was to become a leading dancer in the New York City Ballet and eventually founded Dance Theatre of Harlem.
She also met Geoffrey Holder the costume and stage designer, actor and overall man of the theater, and her future husband at "House of Flowers."
Besides her life as a dancer, Miss de Lavallade has had a career in the theater. She was invited to join the Yale Repertory Theater to teach movement to actors, including Sigourney Weaver and Meryl Streep. She also became an actor with the company; she played Titania in "A Midsummer Nights Dream" and staged movement for Tyrone Guthries "The Beggars Opera."
"That experience with Yale Repertory Theater added another whole dimension to my life," Miss de Lavallade says. "It was a great education, working with actors. I learned so much about how they went about their work and explored a character. Dancing is so physical we often dont take time to do that.
"But I tried to do that with the dancers in my 'Sweet Bitter Love," she says. "I originally danced it as a solo about 20 years ago, and when Judith asked me to do a work for the Ailey company I decided to turn it into a duet. Its about a sad breakup, and I added the male role and tried to tell the story of what happened. Thats where my experience with Yale Repertory came in handy."
Miss de Lavallade says she had a wonderful time working with the Ailey dancers.
"The more Im working with young people the happier I am," she says. "Its very bad for me physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally to have nothing to do.
"When anyone asks Geoffrey when hes going to retire, he says, 'Retire? Retire you die."
So Miss de Lavallade accepted with alacrity when Mr. Mitchell invited her to dance the role of Berthe, Giselles mother, in his companys unusual production, "Creole Giselle." The ballet follows the same story line as the 1841 ballet, but the production is set in 19th-century Louisiana.
Tuesday marks Miss de Lavallades debut in the role and, indeed, in a classical ballet.
"Its very special for me to work with Arthur. I admire and respect him so much for what hes doing," she says. "And I adore Freddy Franklin, whos staging the ballet. I remember seeing him dance with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Im really learning from him the different style and all the pantomime. It looks so simple, but its a different world."
When these performances are over, Miss de Lavallade has other projects to keep her busy. She works with Complexions, a dance company directed by the choreographer Dwight Rhoden and the dancer Desmond Richardson. She has a trio called Paradigm, in which she dances with Gus Solomons Jr. and Dudley Williams.
"Every age has a story to tell," Miss de Lavallade says, "and more people of age are appearing and doing wonderful work. There are things to say, and you dont necessarily need all that physicality to say them after all, its theater."
One of the dancers most striking appearances happens every year offstage, at the Kennedy Centers Honors Gala in early December. She and her husband are regular honored guests at these affairs, and Miss de Lavallade is always a standout in the dressy, celebrity-studded crowd. A beautiful woman, with regal bearing and a dancers lithe grace, she is resplendent in dramatic ball gowns created by her husband.
"Thats Geoffreys hobby," Miss de Lavallade says with a laugh. "We make those Honors our Christmas present to ourselves. We always go to the State Department dinner the night before, as well, when the honorees get their medals. Its great fun and very elegant. So Geoffrey spends all year designing two dresses. He loves it. As he says, 'Its all about theater."
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The Alvin Ailey American Dance Company is a phenomenal group in its go-for-broke energy, generosity of spirit and engagement with its audience. The late Mr. Aileys masterpiece, "Revelations," generally concludes the companys program.
This combination has brought the group ardent audiences all over the world, and Washington this week is no exception. At the programs opening Tuesday night, the audience was as energized as any in recent memory. It greeted every dance with cheers and broke into rhythmic clapping at the conclusion of "Revelations."
The evening also offered two Washington premieres, by Dwight Rhoden and Alonzo King. Both choreographers have distinctive voices and interesting things to say.
"Chocolate Sessions," by Mr. Rhoden, is full of his edgy, aerobically challenging movement. Glistening bodies interact in exhilarating, sensuous couplings but with an almost total absence of human warmth and connection. When a lone man and woman do embrace, the encounter seems to disturb them.
The mood is enhanced by the score commissioned from Antonio Carlos Scott and lighting by Michael Korsch.
Mr. King, a West Coast director-choreographer, creates works that are a fascinating mix of strong ballet techniques overlaid with mysterious, often haunting, suggestions of other worlds, sometimes Asian, sometimes African.
The title of his "Following the Subtle Current Upstream" hints at an arcane journey. His choice of music featuring the sounds of drums and gongs by Zakir Hussain and Miguel Frasconi, with songs by Miriam Makeba and striking lighting by Axel Morgenthaler underscore his vision.
Three men begin with sinewy, muscular movement. Then as they watch, Clifton Brown performs a mesmerizing solo and falls backward. They pull him offstage, and the mood shifts. Dwana Adiaha Smallwood enters dancing with sinuous hips in a perky, post-modern tutu and is joined by a chorus of elegant women.
A highlight of "Following the Current" is a duet danced by Linda Caceres-Sims and Matthew Rushing. He manipulates and supports her liquid, taffylike movements.
The program, which will be repeated this evening, began and closed with works by Mr. Ailey.
"Night Creature" is sleek and glossy, and the company dances it with gusto, led by the redoubtable Renee Robinson, with Troy ONeil Powell.
"Revelations" is a miracle of deep, heartfelt sentiment and inspired choreography. Those of us who saw it in its earlier manifestations may miss the weightedness of bodies and the gritty, earthy feel that has been superseded by an almost surreal otherworldly vision (in the "Wading in the Water" section for instance). Yet the company still dances "Revelations" with total commitment and fervor. Outstanding are Linda-Denise Evans and Amos J. Machanic Jr. in the "Fix Me Jesus" section and Miss Robinson sailing on with a triumphant white umbrella in "Wading in the Water."

WHAT: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
WHERE: Kennedy Centers Opera House, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW
WHEN: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. today and 2 p.m. tomorrow
TICKETS: $25 to $65
PHONE: 202/467-4600 or 800/444-1324


WHAT: Dance Theatre of Harlem
WHERE: Kennedy Center
WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday through next Saturday, 2 p.m. next Saturday and May 27
TICKETS: $27 to $63
PHONE: 202/467-4600


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