Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has a new look. Count them among the growing list of American companies embracing the Euro Zone with additions of works by Ohad Naharin and Jiri Kylián to their repertory. Their opening night at the Music Center on Wednesday gave you an idea of what that might look like with Naharin’s Minus 16 (originally created for NDT but now franchised with numerous American and European companies) sandwiched between Ronald K. Brown’s Grace and Ailey’s revered Revelations(1960). Jiri Kylián’s Petite Mort (1991) is also on two programs playing at the Music Center this week.
The choreographic contrasts are significant. Kylián and his company, Nederlands Dans Theater, operate from a modernized, contemporary ballet aesthetic. Bat Sheva is dedicated to Naharin’s gestural and postcultural Gaga ethos. Ailey’s company has made its mark with a mix of American dance techniques applied to African American themes and stories. The company looked confident Wednesday in Minus 16, adapting to the work’s eccentricities, improvisational style and sprawling content. (For details and information on Minus 16 please see a previous review of the company from last year’s performance at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California:
The two pillars of Minus 16 are the ensemble section based on the Passover carol , “Echad Mi Yodea” (“Who Knows One”), and an emotional duo to a section from Vivaldi’s choral work Nisi Dominus (For he gives sleep to his loved ones). That duo feels like a requiem and was given a somber, moving performance on Wednesday by Kirven James Boyd and Ghrai DeVore. On repeated viewing I find myself less and less interested in the audience participation mash-up accompanied by Dean Martin’s cheesy Latin Lounge tune, “Sway with Me”. It’s funny and kitschy, of course. But it can also seem superfluous and tedious. Samuel Lee Roberts made genius comedic work out of the long improvised prologue before the curtain goes up. The work is remarkable for making the chaos of its assembled parts seem cohesive. It comments on Jewishness, history, raw emotion and popular culture with an uncanny edge. Rather than breaking down barriers between the dancers and audience, it assumes that none were really there to begin with.
Opening the evening was Brown’s 1999 work, Grace. It starts and ends with two different versions of Duke Ellington’s Come Sunday. But we never really get a coherent journey connecting the two. There is plenty of dance here, and it’s visually appealing. Brown’s suite overflows with West African and jazz dance motifs, but not a story or a world we can get inside. Leaps and stylized footwork abound. In the final ensemble section, when we emerge into Jennifer Holiday’s lushly sung arrangement of the tune, it is the music that overwhelms the dancing. In the end, it was the long opening solo danced by Linda Celeste Sims that best captured the spiritual call of Come Sunday’s supplicating lyrics.
All the programming this week concludes with Revelations. Ailey invested his best in the men in this work. That paid off in “I Wanna Be Ready” danced by Matthew Rushing, and “Sinner Man” with the expansive trio of Jamar Roberts, Jermaine Terry, and Kirven James Boyd. Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims were also daring in “Fix Me, Jesus”. This is the company that audiences love to love, and “Revelations” is its most consistent and powerful ambassador. European makeover or no, the stuff we love to see from Ailey still glows with its creator’s original intensity.
Also on the program this week are new works in the Ailey repertory by Robert Battle (“Strange Humors”, originally for Parsons Dance Company) and “Another Night”, a commission for Alvin Ailey by rising choreographer, Kyle Abraham.
(The reviewed program took place at the Music Center in Los Angeles on April 17th, 2013.)