writers on dancing


Ailey's Back!

"Reminiscin'," "Shining Star," "Caught," "Revelations"
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
City Center
New York, NY
December 3, 2005

by Susan Reiter
copyright ©2005 by Susan Reiter

The sleek, glamorous side of the Ailey company was highlighted in this program. Aside from the concluding "Revelations," it offered works that are high in verve and audience appeal, but lower on substance. The dancers continue to astonish, from the more seasoned stars—such as Matthew Rushing, Dwana Adiaha Smallwood, Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Sims—but there is talent, and individuality, to burn throughout the roster.

This particular evening served to showcase Clifton Brown, who has quietly been joining the troupe's elite ranks, dancing with sinuous grace and understated virtuosity. He inspired the most vigorous response I've ever witnessed for David Parsons' ever-popular solo "Caught," with a performance that added some new twisting and diving moves to the series of strobe-lit positions. He built up gradually, to the high-in-the-air jumps, and the sight of his lanky form outstretched in the air, seemingly making no contact with the ground, was quite amazing. Parsons' now 23-year-old dance remains a clever gimmick, but it's an effective one that he wisely keeps brief enough so that it doesn't wear out its welcome.

Brown performs two duets in "Reminiscin,'" Judith Jamison's latest work. It's a comfortably familiar kind of showcase for the incredible technique and flair of the dancers, but not particularly logical or consistent in its approach. The impetus was the singing of great female vocalists such as Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Roberta Flack and others. But in the middle, there is an extended violin version of Gershwin's "Lady Be Good"—perfectly fine music, but a rather abrupt switch form the overall tone.

It's set in a sleek bar (the set is at stage right) with a projected window overlooking a gritty urban street. Jamison has said she was inspired by the moody atmosphere of Edward Hopper's painting "Nighthawks." The seven men and six women wear sleek, contemporary outfits with lots of purple and red in the color scheme. They're a cool, sensuous late-night crew, gliding through hot-tempered flare-ups and impassioned encounters.

After a double duet for two knowing, slightly troubled couples, (Dwana Adiaha Smallwood with Matthew Rushing, Linda Celeste Sims with Glenn Sims), Renee Robinson rushes in for an uptempo, giddy solo to "A Tiskit, A Tasket." She's a hyperactive, ditsy dame who seems to find her match in Matthew Rushing, who playfully joins her.  In a forced and rather silly touch, someone hands Robinson an actual "little yellow basket" on the final note.

A duet for Brown and Hope Boykin (another dancer who's really coming into her own) eventually settled down into some standard but persuasive sensual byplay, once some fussy business with a red scarf and a quirky gestural solo bit for Brown were dispensed with. Accompanied by Diana Krall's languorous jazzy interpretation of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You," they wound around one other with sophisticated abandon in a convincing portrayal of a couple who know, and need, each other deeply.  The audience rightly gasped when Boykin abruptly ran across the stage and somehow, effortlessly, stood on Brown's thighs.

The dance proceeded pleasantly, is not particularly memorably, from there, with a vibrant Broadway-worthy finale that included Fosse-esque jumps.  Robinson's role as the quirky odd-woman-out never quite gelled, but if these late-night revelers remained sketchy types, they made the most of what Jamison gave them, and the audience ate it up.

The evening, which also included Parsons' vapid but audience-friendly "Shining Star," closed with the inevitable but always-welcome "Revelations"—one of its occasional performances with live music. In recent years, the musicians have sometimes veered too far towards outsized pop stylings, so that the music began to sound more like Stevie Wonder than spirituals. On this occasion, the singers were exemplary and honorably true to Ailey's intentions. In terms of the dancing, this was not a "Revelations" to remember, although it had its moments. Wendy White Sasser was too tense and careful to give '"Fix Me, Jesus" its full quotient of soaring spiritual uplift, and while "Sinner Man' always delivers a knockout punch, this particular male trio was less sharp in its attack than most I've seen the company field. But the opening and closing ensemble sections were, respectively, eloquent and exuberant. As an added bonus, they included the presence of Alicia Graf, the former Dance Theater of Harlem ballerina who has now signed on with the Ailey company. She was serenely luminous in the poignant opening section, and seemed to be having a grand old time as one of the yellow-clad church ladies in the finale. It should be interesting to see her find her way into the repertory as the season develops.

First: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Hope Boykin and Clifton Brown in Judith Jamison’s Reminiscin’. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Second: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Judith Jamison’s Reminiscin’.  Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Volume 3, No. 45
December 6, 2005

copyright ©2005 Susan Reiter



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last updated on December 5, 2005