Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre is Reborn in Lincoln Center Revival

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere June 12-16 at Lincoln Center
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre Company photos by Christopher Duggan and Paul  Kornik

pictured: Alvin Ailey's Revelations

Artistic Director Robert Battle address the audience onstage on Opening Night

Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster Harlem with Ailey Board Members Jufdith Byrd and David E. Monn

NEW YORK--There was a celebratory mood as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre held a seven- performance, five day engagement at Lincoln Center, its first in that eponymous arts center in more than a decade. The venue has particular significance, not only to Ailey fans, but to the organization's new artistic director, Robert Battle, who first laid eyes upon its grand facades and plaza as a student at the Julliard School. "I know this is our first time in Lincoln Center in a while, but C'mon!" Battle gently chided the crowd, who were perhaps overwhelmed by the grand surroundings. It wasn't long before they broke out in foot-stomping, shouts and applause as the company members pranced on stage to the Afro-centric rhythms and moves of Jamaican-born choreographer Garth Fagan's electrifying From Before, a pastiche of African polyrhythms, Caribbean dance, precision ballet and street hip hop that set the audience on its collective ear. The Ailey Company premiere is the first time this dizzying work from the Tony Award winning choreographer for The Lion King has ever been performed by a company other than Garth Fagan Dance. The fluid, acrobatic movements of the dancers was mesmerizing. At times, the repetitious movements took on an hypnotic characteristic, which, at times seemed monotonous to the untrained eye. To those familiar with the well-spring of Caribbean and African tradition from which mark Fagan's oeuvre', the repetitive nature of the dance is a  vital part of its almost ritualistic roots in Afro-Caribbean tradition and culture. The jazzy percusive score by Trinidadian Grammy winner Ralph MacDonald and colorful costumes by the choreographer himself and Original Lighting by C.T. Oakes made for a perfect eye-popping opening statement for the evening and painted a clear picture of the company's new direction and renewed vitality under Mr. Battle.  Now in his second season as Artistic Director, he has stepped from beneath the long shadows of  founder, Alvin Ailey and Artistic Director Emerita, Judith Jamison, to give the company his own unique stamp.

The kinetic energy of dancer Yannick Lebrun filled the stage in Takademe, choreographed by Mr. Battle with propulsive electronic music by Sheila Chandra. One of his first creations, Mr. Battle's Takademe combines the taut rhythms and deconstructed moves of Indian Kathank dance with the fast-paced polyrhythms of Chandra's New Age jazz score. The music is layered with vocalized symbols that at times mimic the 'click' songs of the Tsosa tribe of South Africa. Lebrun's quick, almost superhuman leaps, thrusts and acrobatic flips were almost exhaustive to behold. The sheer dynamic of his scissoring jumps, torso contractions and deep-bending stomps occurred in such rapid succession that it was difficult for the mind to assimilate them as quickly as the eye could see them. Grace, Ronald K. Brown's landmark creation for the company in 1999 was brought back in a dazzling new production that show the best of what the 'new' Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre is all about. Combining West African dance idioms  with elements of Afro-Pop and modern dance, the work began with Duke Ellington's classic Come Sunday, followed by Roy Davis's Gospel hit Gabriel concluding with Fela Kuti's James  Brown-inspired Afro-Pop music. Grace promotes the very contemporary idea, through motion, that we are all somehow touched by spiritual grace and the healing power and reach of the soul as we travail through the various ups and downs of our day to day lives. Revelations, which ended every performance during the five-evening run, is a loving tribute to the company's founder, Alvin Ailey. Created by Ailey in 1960 to spotlight the illustrious dancing of the company's principal dancer and now Artistic Director Emerita Judith Jamison, it is at once a recreation of a landmark event in the world of modern dance and a touchtone to what is  a living memorial to Mr. Ailey and his vision. Set against recordings of Traditional Black Church music, Ailey's masterpiece was intended to give the audience a glimpse into his remembrances of the Baptist Church services attended as a child in rural Texas. Infused with the soul-stirring emotions of youthful religious fervor and later superimposed with the writings of African American authors James Baldwin and Langston Hughes and even later influences of Brueghal paintings and Oriental Theatre, Revelations still has the power to inspire. An elderly woman seated next to me, accompanied by her daughter, was moved to tears, as were many others.  Youngsters, who had been brought to the performance by their parents, seemed transfixed by its power and majesty.

Other notable works from the long weekend's performances included Four Corners,a World Premiere by celebrated choreographer and Ailey favorite Ronald K. Brown and Petit Mort, a really superb example of the company's mastery of classic ballet forms and the technical prowess and almost overwhelming sensuality of Alvin Ailey's unique brand of dance technique. Petit Mort, choreographed by renowned European dance master Jiri Kylian and set against the music of Woflgang Amadeus Mozart's two most popular piano concertoes, really showcases the company's towering capabilities and showed why the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre is one of the most in-demand companies performing today. The company is celebrated globally and is designated "A vital American cultural ambassador to the world" by a 2008 U.S. Congressional resolution. This summer, the company prepares for a fall tour of Brazil and Argentina and will be conducting numerous education and performance programs at its world headquarters at the Joan Weill Center for Dance in Manhattan, the city's largest building solely dedicated to dance. The building, designed by Bibliowicz Architects, is home to The Company as well as Ailey II, which performs in the Chicago area Friday, October 25 in two   performances at Governors State University at The Center for Performing Arts in south suburban University Park, Illinois. For advance tickets and information, visit alvinailey.org or call 708-235-2222. Also this summer, The Company will operate AileyCamp, a unique program that combines dance classes with personal development workshops, creative communications classes and field trips for under-served youth aged 11-14 in cities such as Atlanta, Miami, FL, Berkeley/Oakland, California, Kansas City, KS and MO Bridgeport, CT and New York City. In addition the company will be hosting world-wide auditions at its headquarters in New York and in Bari, Italy in the Puglia region. The Ailey School continues, educating more than 5,000 students of all ages throughout the year with Arts in Education and Community Programs being simultaneously held by The Ailey Organization in classrooms and community centers, bringing dance into the lives of more than 100,000 people of diverse backgrounds around the country and around the world. This was the vision of Alvin Ailey, born January 5, 1931 in Rogers, Texas. He founded the company in 1958 with the idea of enriching  American modern dance heritage with the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience. His untimely death in 1989, did nothing to dim that vision. As evidenced at Lincoln Center, it lives on in the dancers who are the apostles to

his cultural movement and in the souls of audience members who witness his genius onstage.

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