The Alvin Ailey American Dance
Theater presented an evening of contrasts, three works new to the Company, a
“Revelations”-free program, but not totally free.
Photo by Paul Konig
First was an all-male work,
“Uprising” by Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter to a loud, pounding
monochromatic score by himself and Vex’d. Divided into a number of short
sections the work seemed to be about the intricacies of male bonding, complete
with affectionate couplings and brutal beat downs. On a dimly lit stage
teeming with an eerie fog, the dancers emerged as if by magic, thanks to Lee
Curran’s lighting expertise. At first they formed a wall of men in passé
position, as if stopped in mid-pirouette, a misleadingly genteel image
considering the stomping, ritualistic circling and stylized violence that was
to come. Dressed in leisure street wear—t-shirts, chinos—the cast of
seven alternately danced in unison—sometimes in fractured circles, sometimes in
lines across the stage—hunkering down, stomping but often taking long pauses,
pauses emerging as a theme in “Uprising.” The movement palette was
limited, basically running, walking, crouching and lots of gesturing, including
soft jabs that escalated into slaps. The mood was dark, even the
tenderness colored by angst. The work never gelled into a cogent statement
and the men never coalesced into a community, shared rituals
notwithstanding. Schechter has a feel for theater and for moving his
dancers around, but ultimately “Uprising” was pretentious, vacuous and
meandering. It was, however, danced with intense intelligence by Daniel
Harder, Collin Heyward, Renaldo Maurice, Michael Francis McBride, Samuel Lee
Roberts, Kanji Segawa and Glenn Allen Sims.
Photo by Paul Konig
Ailey has added Jacqulyn
Buglisi’s richly dreamy “Suspended Women” to the repertoire this season.
To Ravel’s gorgeous Piano Concerto in G major, the large cast of women, all in
colorful, lush, long period gowns, some with hoops, sweep around the stage
tending to each other, all the while managing their very un-modern costumes, that
is until four men, in black suits, but bare-chested, disturb their peaceable
queendom with their sensual chicanery. The appearance of the men as
sexual interlopers was heavy handed symbolism in a work already filled with
rituals, but “Suspended Women” had sweep and loveliness, even if Ms. Buglisi
decided to turn it into a “she vs. he” statement. The Ailey women took to
the heavy legato of Ms. Buglisi’s Graham inspired movement with ease. The
unusually luxurious costumes were by A. Christina Giannini.
Photo by Steve Wilson
Ailey veteran and rehearsal
director Matthew Rushing contributed “Odetta” to the program, an obvious and
unsuccessful attempt at conflating the legendary Odetta’s life and songs with
unsubtle political and social statements. Mr. Rushing unfortunately
decided to use recorded statements by Odetta as a unifying device rather than
letting the songs and choreography do the talking. On the plus side was Demetia
Hopkins Greene as the Odetta stand-in, a richly talented dancer whose presence was
the de facto unifying device in the swiftly, elegantly moving flesh, dressed in
a multi-colored long dress. In ten songs, most sung by Odetta, the
dancers represented the folksy Odetta (“This Little Light of Mine”), the
anti-war Odetta (“Masters of War”) and the peace-loving Odetta (“Freedom
Trilogy”). Set pieces by Travis George were re-purposed as benches,
walls and columns in front of wonderfully expressive images of Odetta by
Stephen Alcorn projected onto the back curtain, giving “Odetta” a constantly
changing environment. “This Little Light of Mine,” the opening section
introduced Ms. Hopkins Greene as the leader of a happy village of dancers as
she swept about the stage. “John Henry” was represented by Jeroboam
Bozeman who was called upon to stretch and stomp as the mythical hero.
The comical “A Hole In the Bucket” was a mimed duet performed by Jacqueline
Green and Yannick Lebrun. They gave dimension to a spatting couple.
Throughout “Odetta” there were
direct references—inadvertent or not—to Ailey’s “Revelations” such as “Cool
Water,” a “Fix Me, Jesus” knock-off and the finale, “Freeedom Trilogy” whose
strutting choreography echoed “Rocka My Soul.” There is nothing wrong
with this and it is completely understandable as Mr. Rushing has probably
danced hundreds of performances of “Revelations.” Every choreographer
from Martha Graham to Paul Taylor to Mr. Ailey, himself, has taken from their
idols en route to discovering their own voices. “Odetta” was a pleasant,
impeccably danced work and definitely an audience-pleaser.
Robert Battle has to be applauded
for working hard to find new works that fit the talents of his troupe.
Although the three ballets on this program had faults, they all expanded the
expressiveness of the performers and certainly, made for a varied and colorful
The Alvin Ailey American Dance
Theater season at the New York City Center continues through January 4th.
Alvin Ailey American Dance
December 3, 2014 – January 4,
New York City Center
131 West 55th St.
between 6th & 7th Aves.
New York, NY
Tickets: 212-581-1212 or www.NYCityCenter.org