- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Everything about the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s yearly appearance here has the mark of confirmed ritual, especially its rousing, ubiquitous finale — Mr. Ailey’s soul-stirring “Revelations.”

The audience is hyped for this climax, erupting in cheers as the curtain rises on dancers clustered in a group, poised to tumble apart and draw back together, arms reaching heavenward, then opening out like giant rays of light.

In all the dance world there is nothing quite like “Revelations” and the ardor it evokes. Set to a pulsing group of spirituals, the work spans the sacred and profane with the exuberance of “Wade in the Water”; the humility of “I Wanna Be Ready”; the electric drive of “Sinner Man”; and the saucy, sexy humor of “Rock-a My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.”

The audience, familiar with all its rituals, greets each new number with bursts of applause and stands and cheers through innumerable curtain calls. The dancers grin back at them, and the ovation continues unabated, with both sides playing the game — until, inevitably, the music for “Rock-a My Soul” begins again and the dancers strut their stuff one more time.

And so it went during the company’s opening performance at the Kennedy Center Tuesday evening as the curtain rang down on what arguably is the most-performed dance in the Western Hemisphere. “Revelations” has been around for 47 years and has evolved through time — becoming slicker and more virtuosic and loosening some of its connection to the earthy Texas countryside that inspired Mr. Ailey.

Even with fancier costumes and sky-high leg extensions, the work still captures the imagination. It seems spontaneous and fresh each night, thanks to the company’s astounding performance.

The one element sorely missed in today’s “Revelations,” with its overhyped recorded arrangements, is live musicians in the pit — with tunes sung memorably in the past by Brother John Sellers, who brought immediacy and authenticity to the performance.

With sold-out houses all week, perhaps the bottom line could absorb the added expense of such a crucial element. Current audiences don’t realize what they’re missing.

In the rest of Tuesday’s program (to be repeated at both matinees this weekend) the company tackled less familiar styles — Mr. Ailey’s “The River,” set to a Duke Ellington score and originally commissioned for the American Ballet Theater, and Twyla Tharp’s riveting, muscular “The Golden Section.”

True to its name, “The River” is full of swirls and eddies, with the dancers moving under dappled light. Mr. Ailey created the work in 1970 for some of ABT’s brightest stars.

Although ballet is not the company’s natural idiom, it was clear the dancers have extensive ballet training and stretched to meet its demands. Particular standouts were Clifton Brown in the opening section and the lissome Alicia Graf in “Vortex.”

“The Golden Section” was pure Tharp all the way — fast, demanding, athletic, pugnacious, challenging. Another unfamiliar way of moving for these sleek, highly stretched dancers.

Miss Tharp has described how she spun off these short bursts of movement — in solos, duets and trios — setting up one hourlong rehearsal after another, finishing each little section in that compressed time. The result captures that immediacy and spontaneity in each high-energy section, the dancers hurtling through the air, jogging and feinting like boxers. It’s a different challenge for these dancers, more contained and focused, and it gave them an appealing tension as they tackled this new style.

Tonight’s program celebrates Renee Robinson’s 25th anniversary with the Ailey company. A Washington native, Miss Robinson trained here at the Jones-Haywood School. She has been a central figure in the Ailey company with her vivid, spunky style. She practically owns the central role in the “Wade in the Water” section of “Revelations” — which she will dance tonight — as well as “Sweet Bitter Love,” a solo choreographed by Carmen de Lavallade.

Other works to be seen this week include John Butler’s “Portrait of Billie,” set to Billie Holiday recordings; “Gamelan Gardens,” by Karole Armitage; and “Pas de Duke,” originally created by Mr. Ailey as a vehicle for Mikhail Baryshnikov and Judith Jamison, the Ailey company’s artistic director.

***1/2

WHAT: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

WHEN: Evening performances are tonight through Saturday at 7:30. Matinees are Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

TICKETS: $30 to $79

PHONE: 202/467-4600

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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