ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN DANCE Theatre is one of the most refreshing and exciting companies around these days, and every performance they give just serves to increase this reputation last week's short spot in Boston was no exception. In six days they managed to give a good sample of all the various dance forms they have merged successfully in their repertoire-ballet, jazz, modern, folk and soul.
Wednesday night they performed four very different dances that which all shared one basic element an abundance of energy. Regardless of whether the dance was to the music of George Winston. Mendelssohn, Peter Gordon or Pat Metheny, one could feel the pulsing rhythm and energy of the dancers, their lithe bodies stretching and pulling and creating forces.
The night opened with a piece called "Isba" with music by George Winston ("Autumn") and choreography by Alvin Ailey. It seemed to be just a joyous celebration of colors, of people and of love. The set was a brilliant backdrop of pink, blue and green complemented by the dancers hot, brightly colored costumes. The dancers alternated from groups to solos to partners and as they proceeded through different movements they just seem to be having a better and better time. They turned, displaying their perfect techniques with their arms up, down always creating more tension. The dance itself was mainly modern, but a lot of good Jazz technique was mixed in with head rolls and hip swings, adding an interesting aspect to the slow moving push-pull stretch experience of the entire piece.
The dancers were most powerful when they danced in groups, especially when three groups, especially when three groups simultaneously performed three different steps. The music itself could hold its own, so when combined with an almost breathtaking set and astounding dancers the company presented a near perfect piece. The dancers jumped effortlessly, landing as if they had not hit the surface by kicking their legs high. They moved in waves and alternated together in one clump in the middle of the stage with each just closing in on his or her own circle.
The two lead dancers for this work, Michihiko Oka and Sharrell Mesh, were a beautiful pair and also managed to dance technically correctly without exerting any pressure. Between strong, high leaps, rhythmic body waves and complicated attitude turns they created an ecstatic tension between themselves.
"Fever Swamp," with music by Peter Gordon and choreography by Bill T. Jones, followed "Isba" A short, intense work created for the male members of the Ailey Company. "Fever Swamp," celebrated their strength, robust ensemble work, technique and expression. Seemingly light-hearted, it mirrored Peter Gordon's sharp staccato "Intervallic Expressions." The music's surface--slick, square and seemingly native--veiled an inner surface ripe with irregularities and good-humored ironies.
The six dancers began in casual white shirts and slacks. The set was bright neon-orange with a stage spotted with futuristic trees. The men slowly strutted around exchanging jokes and talk. Their surroundings seem to be a city seen as a jungle with the dancers giving us the undercurrents of the urban experience. While their dancing was technically clean, sharp and powerful, what was most impressive was that though the dancing demanded incredible concentration, both physical and mental, all six men created an exuberant rapport with the audience. As the music intensified and the rhythm sped up, the dancers' steps increased in complexity. Movements became more short, sleak and synchronized. Acrobatics introduced--the men worked in pairs. They struck poses, leapt across and up, turned with their arms strongly outstretched--all with perfect control over their bodies. The result was a gradual build up of energy inside of them.
The third piece was almost a slight disappointment after the first two energy-filled dances. Calteu Song Without Words," the work, was accompanied with music by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Primarily a modern ballet, the dance, however, was heavily influenced by modern styles since the dancers did not wear traditional ballet shoes. While it was a mellow, pleasant piece that was danced well, it lacked an accompanying force and drive. The sequence contained a series of duets interspersed by a solo and a quartet. The pas de deus were the highlight, usually interesting if not exciting.
THE AILEY COMPANY ALWAYS seemed to be introducing a new style or motif in their works, most apparent in "Song Without Words." The ballet used traditional forms but was stripped down to the barest essentials. While it did not transmit the same grandeur that a ballet like "Swan Lake" or "Petrouchka" would, it did have other qualities, more modern inflections. The plain, simple costumes served to outline the human body. More concentration went into individual movements like pointing and flexing the feet, rather than intricate, fast combinations. In this way, the dancers made the bullet majestic, as it almost exalted the human body, the person, without any other intervening factors.
The last piece was a "tour de force." Called "Precipice," it was choreographed by Alvin Ailcy, with music by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays. The dance was inspired by the lives of certain stars of pop music, especially Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, who were driven to self-destruction at the peak of escalating careers, described in the program as "a ballet about loneliness where a hero finds himself at the edge of a precipice."
However, the 30-minute dance could also be about the Black experience in the city about the stereotypes and motifs that have developed over many years. It also exalted Black culture, the special throbbing life of jazz and colors and strength. The piece itself moved between the star (Gary DeLoatch) and his woman (Neisha Folkes), his percents, those close to him and those at a distance. The set was a fiery red turbulent scene with all the dancers costumed in amazing clothing reminiscent of the twenties, the disco eighties and the jazz days.
The dancers obviously enacted a story, but the plot was almost usurped by the dancing itself. The dancers spun their arms in figure eights, lifting each other higher and higher, lunging, Kicking and contracting. The music added other dimensions to the work as when it broke off into a tribal beat in the middle.
The Alvin Ailey Company is a treat--a contemporary company that delves into experimental, innovative themes and styles as no other company tries. They integrated and merged styles successfully with good, solid technique. Moreover, they gave us an exuberating trip to another world--and that's nice even if it's only for a couple of hours.