Saturday, December 17, 2016

Ailey winds up the year, fresher than ever at City Center

Chalvar Monteiro of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
 in Kyle Abraham's Untitled America
(photo: Rosalie O'Connor)

A scene from Johan Inger's Walking Mad
(photo: Paul Kolnik)

I'd fully expect the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to look swell in Billy WilsonThe Winter in Lisbon (1992), celebrating the music of Dizzy Gillespie. High-polished ballet-modern moves, inspired by cool and sleek or hot-sauced social dancing, are a big part of the Ailey resumé. And following Walking Mad, Johan Inger's dark, frantic farce which appears to be about relationship anxieties, and Untitled America, Kyle Abraham's meditation on prison life and distressed families, the Wilson piece seems like luscious dessert for City Center audiences waiting to exhale and dancers eager to please.

On Thursday night, this current Ailey troupe addressed all three works with such freshness that even the Wilson romp delivered far more than the customary snap. And let's give the Ailey women their due. They're dancing with extraordinary investment, holding nothing back. You look at the entire ensemble in this program and notice them, this secret weapon inside the troupe, a young cadre you don't want to mess with--women like Danica Paulos and Jacquelin Harris. And on Thursday night in the Abraham and Wilson pieces, their royal Jacqueline Green made romantic lyricism and dignified stateliness look like something the company is showing off for the first time.

Abraham's Untitled America, a world premiere, draws poignancy from a soundscape featuring interview clips of people whose family lives have been disrupted by incarceration (and one searing song in particular, Laura Mvula's "Father Father"). Abraham honors these voices and real lives with accessible iconography--for instance, hands clasped behind as if manacled, or the gentle, solemn approach to hallowed ground where, we easily imagine, a fallen loved one has been laid to rest--inside impressionistic choreographic patterns. His work speaks of ruin but reflects hope. It relies on faith in a universal ability to understand common imagery and human gesture, to recognize woundedness and suffering in the Other as in ourselves, to care because life matters. It offers what we desperately need now, and the Ailey company, with its widespread popularity, is ideally suited to carry this example as far as possible.

The Ailey troupe dances Ronald K. Brown's Cuba-inspired Open Door
to music by Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra
(photo: Paul Kolnik)

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater season runs through December 31 with its usual abundant and diverse programming. For complete schedule information and tickets, click here.

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