Ailey Company Leaps Into Future
Alivin Ailey American Dance Theater
at the Wang Center (T: Boylston)
through Saturday at 8pm
Sunday at 3pm
for more information: 931-ARTS
I have seen the glorious future of the human race and it is Alvin Ailey.
"Carmina Burana," (1959) the first piece in the Tuesday night performance of the Alvin Ailey dance company's run at the Wang Center begins with the entire company dancing onto the stage dressed as monks. The costumes are in keeping with the music, a collection of songs and poems composed by renegade 13th-century monks who rejected their monastic vows. The robed dancers move onto the stage in an androgynous file.
It is impossible to tell what gender a particular dancer is; the women are as strong as the men and the men as graceful as the women. Everyone is androgynous and, for the most part, of undiscernable race, a superhuman grouof powerful, raceless, sexless beings, so talented that it is clear they could not be mere mortals.
As the music changes, the monks strip off their black robe--along with their ascetic--vows and the piece becomes more gender-conscious, an examination of revelry, love and, as the program notes, "the ever-changing fate of man." The backdrop is lit at the start and end of the piece with a medeival drawing of the Wheel of Fate; the images change throughout the piece, as does the lighting, music and mood.
John Butler's choreography is innovative and intelligent, examining the theme of the piece with segments representing sensual pleasure, fear, and remorse and movements mimicking erotic dance and guilty flagellation.
Butler's movement focuses on weight and power as opposed to graceful balletic discipline. The pageantry of the music and movement, the drama of the dance, the emotion of the performers and the number of gravity-and-death-defying jumps and falls in the piece will please even non-dancers. The 56 minutes of this dance are over far too soon.
The second piece, "Scissors Paper Stone," (1994) is a 14-minute romp choreographed by Brenda Wang as part of the Alvin Ailey Women's Choreography Institute. The title is inspired by the childhood game (also often used to decide rooming disputes) "Rock, paper, scissors," which Wang uses as "a metaphor for mutual destruction." Indeed, the piece is a tug-of-war between a man, a woman and an "other," a woman dressed as a man who seduces and battles with both the traditional man and the traditional woman.
Gender roles are examined throughout the piece which is danced to John "Mighty Mouth" Moschitta's spoken synopsis of "A Streetcar Named Desire," John Lee Hooker's "Smoky Joe's Cafe," and a Jimi Hendrix song, among others. The movement is jerky, yet sensual, an erotic power struggle whose attitude carries over to the curtain call which brought down the house Tuesday night.
The final piece of the performance is Alvin Ailey's famous "Revelations" (1960), set to the music of a number of African-American spirituals. This piece examines all manners of religious feeling, from tormented writhing and running of three men trying to outrun the flames of hell, to the unity of a prayer group, excitement of an impending religious celebration and the joy of a church meeting.
"Revelations" is amazing. Its African-inspired movement is fluid and stunning, with the dancers forming shapes evocative of religious fervor, from prayer tableaux to crucifixion. The dancers move regally in gorgeous unison as the light bathes the stage, moving from sunlight to moonlight. The joy of the final church meeting segment is infectious, and carries through the ending curtain call. Tuesday's audience was wildly receptive and rightfuly so.
Each of the six scheduled performance features three or four of ten pieces. Any night is sure to please dance aficionados as well as those who know nothing about dance. The choreography is innovative, expert and stunning to watch. The dancers are even better. Their strength and flexibility are mindboggling; being able to slap your face with your foot seems to be a requirement for joining the Company.
Everything about the opening night performance was superb, down to the lighting and sound. What sets the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater apart from other technically perfect groups, however, is the creative energy of both the choreography and the performers. This is definitely a performance to fit into your ARTS FIRST celebration.