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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater gives us "Shelter"

Linda Celeste Sims
of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
in Twyla Tharp's The Golden Section
(photo: Paul Kolnik)

All I wanted for Solstice was a trip up to New York City Center for an Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater matinee!

It was great to see Twyla Tharp's The Golden Section on Ailey bodies again and to watch (for my first time) Ailey women embody Shelter, a work Jawole Willa Jo Zollar premiered with her renowned Urban Bush Women.

Tharp's company first launched The Golden Section in 1981 as the exhilarating finale of The Catherine Wheel, her Broadway collaboration with her lover at the time, rock composer David Byrne; later, that segment gained its own spotlight as a standalone work in Tharp repertory. The Ailey troupe got it in 2006. The Zollar piece premiered for UBW in 1988 and for Ailey in 1992. Both works, then, are products of the Reagan years, and both have much to offer us today.

These dances lit up a program also featuring Robert Battle's The Hunt and Alvin Ailey's cherished signature work, Revelations. (The only revelation here? Clifton Brown's "I Wanna Be Ready." How can he still look as sharp as a jet while exuding so much gravitas?) The exciting Tharp and Zollar pieces--like forest fires that, paradoxically, usher in new life--make it hard to watch dancers not being challenged, shown off but not shown at their most fluent, capable and venturesome.

The Golden Section--which once blasted its way out of The Catherine Wheel's odd tale of nuclear family/nuclear peril--is brassy fanfare with no let up. (We're going boom, boom, boom! That's the way we live!) Dancers scoot, slide, glide, twist, twirl, prance and fly across the stage in continual agitation, working flavors of jazz, flourishes of ballet, and dashes of athletics into Byrne's percussive, polyrhythmic brew. (There's nothing stronger than the feeling you get when your eyes are wide open!) Back door, screen door--all wide open, Byrne sings. Dancers embody physical and mental joy, liberated and defiant back in the day and defiant today, needed again. For them, nothing exists besides this ecstasy. Tharpian fusion, wriggling through a company of mostly Black bodies, looks like movement going right back home to its people. The Ailey dancers claim it and then some.

Unlike The Golden Section, Zollar's Shelter retains its context of peril and specifically calls for responsibility and justice. (Texts by Hattie Gossett, Carl Hancock Rux, Laurie Carlos, Paloma McGregor and Zollar address the carelessness with which we treat our fellow humans and our environment, as if both were disposable.) But the dancing steadily moves through this context and builds its ecstasy, sourced in woman ways and the Black diaspora. Shelter often calls for mass movement--coordinated shifting of weight, direction and energy that feels like collective amplification of Zollar's design. It's not just doing the same thing at the same time in a huddle. It's a feeling shared from woman to woman, and either you have it, as a group, or you don't. They have it, we can all tell. In the performance I saw, Ailey's Ashley Mayeux, Fana Tesfagiorgis, Danica Paulos, Hope Boykin, Bélen Pereyra-Alem and Constance Stamatiou boldly rendered the collective aesthetics and intention of the work. They showed us a powerful community. Credit not only Zollar but also her team of rehearsal assistants--Maria Bauman, Jaimé Dzandu, Marjani Forté, McGregor, Samantha Speis and Bennalldra Williams--for the excellent training of the Ailey dancers in this moving production.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater continues through December 31. For schedule and ticket information, click here.

New York City Center
131 W 55th St (between 6th and 7th Avenues), Manhattan

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