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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater - Gamelan Gardens, Portrait of Billie, Existence Without Form, The Golden Section
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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
www.alvinailey.org
At City Center
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Alvin Ailey – Founder
Judith Jamison – Artistic Director
Joan H. Weill, Chairman of the Board of Trustees
Masazumi Chaya – Associate Artistic Director
Sharon Gersten Luckman — Executive Director
Calvin Hunt, General Manager/Director of Production
Amadea Edwards Andino, Manager of Administration
Dacquiri T'Shaun Smittick, Company Manager
Jodi Pam Krizer, Director, Marketing and Public Relations
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Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 28, 2006

Originally Published on ExploreDance.com

Gamelan Gardens (2006): Choreography by Karole Armitage, Assistants to the Choreographer: Armitage Gone! Dance, Music by Lou Harrison ("Double Concerto for Violin, Cello with Javanese Gamelan"), Costume design by Peter Speliopoulos, Lighting design by Clifton Taylor, Scenic design by David Salle and EJ Corrigan, Performed by the Company. The Ailey press book shows tight, off-white gymnastic briefs as lead costumes for this work, but, what remained in my mind were the brief maternity-like, female ensemble costumes, which seemed more suited to a playful score. In fact, this score, with Javanese Gamelan, an ensemble of Javanese instruments, plus cello, violin, and its collective, quasi-New Age sound, was hypnotic. Rarely do I experience an Ailey Company work that I do not long to see again, but Gamelan Gardens could benefit from some redesign.

Ms. Armitage has choreographed for American Ballet Theatre, The Paris Opera Ballet, and Rambert Dance Company, all significant ballet companies, but for the modern dance idiom, a constant state of surrealness is less interesting and figuratively dissonant, without a matching, choreographed structure. Courtney Brené Corbin and Glenn Allen Sims, however, as a lead couple among a dozen dancers, were stylistically fascinating, with inter-twining connections of seductive innuendo, and with Ms. Corbin thankfully in the tight-fitting costume.


Portrait of Billie (1959): Conceived and Choreographed by John Butler, Restaged by Carmen de Lavallade and Masazumi Chaya, Music sung by Billie Holiday, Costume design by Normand Maxon, Lighting design by Shirley Prendergast, Décor by Jac Venza, Performed by Courtney Brené Corbin and Glenn Allen Sims.

In a repeat partnership, after their duo dance of the previous work, Courtney Brené Corbin and Glenn Allen Sims danced the riveting Portrait of Billie, one of the highlights of the season, and the first sensational surprise of the evening. With Billie Holiday's crooning as backdrop, Ms. Corbin, in a white evening dress and signature gardenia, was both elegant and crushed. She internalized the tortured soul of the renowned vocalist, and, moment-by-moment, brought that soul closer to the viewer. The man of the hour was Glenn Allen Sims, and he and Ms. Corbin matched mind and body in one of the best duo-dance performances I've ever seen. There was no comparison in the realization of the partnering to the previous work.

When Ms. Corbin tossed off her heels and danced barefoot with her man, in lust and in torment, Ms. Holiday's life experience was evoked, with all its trials and troubles. Mr. Sims evoked "everyman", but Ms. Corbin evoked just one, solitary soul, Billie Holiday, one of the loveliest and loneliest personas, one with sensuality and strength, personality and passion. Ms. De Lavallade and Mr. Chaya restaged this 1959 John Butler work with a clear picture of Billie Holiday and a clear understanding of the potential of the dance partnership. When Mr. Sims strode in, elevating himself on his toes, he seemed to consume, control, and confuse his "woman", at once and at will. Kudos to John Butler, and kudos to Ms. Corbin and Mr. Sims.


Existence Without Form (2006): Choreography by Uri Sands, Music composed by Christian Matijias, ("Na Razie bez Ciebie"), Costume design by Tulle & Dye, Lighting design by Al Crawford, Assistants to the Choreographer: Toni Pierce-Sands & Eva Mohn, Performed by Wendy White Sasser, Hope Boykin, Alicia J. Graf, Kirven J. Boyd, Antonio Douthit, Malik Le Nost, and Clifton Brown.

This light but interesting new work, choreographed by Uri Sands, is performed to a new score by Christian Matijias, on cello, piano, and vocals, and its wind-driven movement keeps the dancers in constant motion, sometimes in acrobatic fashion. The women's costumes are simple, long dresses, and the men wear equally pastel pants. Alicia Graf, Wendy White Sasser, and Hope Boykin were flowing in their ethereal turns and somber spins. The cello is an effectively rich instrument for this enchanting piece, and all four male dancers were swift and seamless, true to the choreographic intent.


The Golden Section (1983): Choreography by Twyla Tharp, Staged by Shelley Washington, Music composed and performed by David Byrne, Costume design by Santo Loquasto, Lighting design by Jennifer Tipton, Performed by the Company. For the final work for this writer, this season, I was delighted to catch The Golden Section, the second sensational surprise of the evening. Twyla Tharp's 1983 dramatic and driven work, with her signature jogging and hand rolling, is set against a blackish brown, with gold, backdrop, Santo Loquasto's gold, brief, and exotic costumes, and a wild, electrified score, composed and performed by David Byrne. The audience was breathless, once again (as they were for Portrait of Billie), and Ms. Washington's uninhibited staging was a huge success.

Dancers catapulted through the air, plunged onto each other's bodies and outstretched arms, and sometimes just spun around, onstage and mid-air. Dwana Adiaha Smallwood, Linda Celeste Sims, Asha Thomas, Wendy White Sasser, Roxanne Lyst, and Gwynenn Taylor Jones matched in virtuosity and vivacity the male ensemble. Those seven men were Matthew Rushing, Glenn Allen Sims (who miraculously danced in three of four works), Clifton Brown, Jamar Roberts, Antonio Douthit, Kirven J. Boyd, and Malik Le Nost. The thirteen danced with lightning speed and outsized exuberance.

Kudos to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for another memorable and monumental season. You can catch them on tour by checking www.ailey.org.

Asha Thomas and Jamar Roberts in Existence Without Form by Uri Sands

Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik


Alicia J. Graf and Abdur-Rahim Jackson in The Golden Section by Twyla Tharp

Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik

 

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net