- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater roared into town Tuesday for a week of performances, bringing one of its strongest opening programs in memory. It was memorable for many reasons. The evening — co-sponsored by the Washington Performing Arts Society—opened and closed with two of the late Mr. Ailey’s most familiar, surefire works, “Blues Suite” and his sublime “Revelations,” brilliantly danced by the company. With this ensuring the evening’s success, the troupe was confident enough to present two new works by two choreographers who took bold and interesting chances.

In one sense, the two new ballets repeated the Ailey emphasis on driving energy. But what choreographer, given the chance to work with these high-wattage dancers, could resist using their talents in this area?

“Juba’” introduced the work of the young and talented Robert Battle and an equally intriguing composer, John Mackey, who produced a harsh, percussive score that at times dominated the action.

The title refers to a West African dance that found its way to slave groups in the South. It was performed to the hilt by Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell, Glenn A. Sims, Jeffrey Gerodias and Clyde Archer.

Dressed in green Cossack-style tunics, the quartet thrust their joined hands in the air, incorporated folk-dance motifs in their linked steps, beat fists on their knees, exploded in stamping steps and crashed to the floor with increasing intensity — almost a sense of derangement. The work seemed unresolved, but the movement was striking, and the intent was serious and clearly marked. Mr. Battle is someone to watch.

Alonzo King has always marched to a different drummer, and his new “Heart Song” is a grand example of his idiosyncratic approach. The dance is set to a wonderful score: Arabic music from North Africa for voice, percussion and stringed instruments.

The choreography invites free association; you go with Mr. King’s images, finding them mysterious at times but haunting and vivid enough to remain in memory. Among many such moments is a passage that suggests a pieta, an image that has intrigued the choreographer before: A woman holds a supine man across her legs, and three others take his lifeless body and raise him up. The self-contained, introspective quality of “Heart Song” makes it an interesting contrast to much of the Ailey’s rep.

The opening “Night Creature” glittered with teasing sexuality, a courtship ritual led with sassy good humor by the talented Renee Robinson.

In the end, it seems that all roads lead to “Revelations.” Its soaring energy and deep humanity shape the company’s style and its heart. Dancing in it helps forge the group’s extraordinary sense of commitment, which extends to everything it dances.

To their vast credit, artistic director Judith Jamison and her associate director, Masazumi Chaya, have burnished “Revelations” to a high luster. Those who saw it in the ‘60s, when Mr. Ailey created it, may miss the early rawness and earthiness, but no matter how much it has been enlarged and its effects hyped, the company still performs the work with dedicated, full-bodied passion. There is no dust on this 44-year-old masterpiece. Bravo to directors and dancers alike for keeping it fresh.

“Revelations” is unique in other ways, as well.

No other company has a single dance that looms so large in its repertoire. The Ailey company is dancing it at five of the seven performances here, and it appears frequently on the programs the ensemble performs on its extended tours in this country and abroad.

The work is unusual, too, because its audiences — many of whom know the dance from repeated viewings — are almost as familiar with it as with the spirituals in its score. On Tuesday, the audience clapped at the sound of the recorded music even before the curtain went up. When it did, a cheer arose from the crowd in joyful anticipation as the wonderful wedge formation of dancers began “I Been ‘Buked.”

“Revelations” is a phenomenon. Accessible, moving, exhilarating and profound, it speaks to everyone. There is nothing else like it in the world of dance.

***1/2

WHAT: The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

WHEN: Tonight through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

WHERE: The Kennedy Center Opera House, New Hampshire Avenue and F Street NW.

TICKETS: $27 to $67

PHONE: 202/467-4600

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