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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
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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
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Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
12/5/06

Originally Published on ExploreDance.com

Night Creature (1974) From "Ailey Celebrates Ellington": Choreography by Alvin Ailey, Music by Duke Ellington ("Night Creature"), Original Costume by Jane Greenwood, Costume design recreated by Barbara Forbes, Lighting design by Chenault Spence, Performed by Asha Thomas, Vernard J. Gilmore, and the Company. An homage to Ellington's jazz, this buoyant Ailey work, in an all-Ailey program, in stunning silver-blue-white costumes, is evocative of human fireflies, spinning, flying, and buzzing about, in rapid, rambunctious rhythms. It's amazing that this 1974 Ailey work was essentially new in the New York repertoire, highlighting the vast Ailey dance portfolio of 79 ballets, choreographed by the Company's founder and namesake. Ms. Thomas, Mr. Gilmore, and Company were astounding in muscularity and magnetic force. This first review of the season should note, early on, that the Ailey Company somehow manages to thrive and perfect itself, each and every year. The new Joan Weill Center for Dance, with its expanded practice and rehearsal space, is obviously an inspiration to these mesmerizing and dedicated dancers.


Cry (1971) For all black women everywhere, especially our mothers: Choreography by Alvin Ailey, Music by Alice Coltrane, Laura Nyro, and Chuck Griffin, Costume by A. Christina Giannini, Lighting by Chenault Spence, Performed by Dwana Adiaha Smallwood.
In my 2002 interview with Ailey dancer, Dwana Adiaha Smallwood, Ms. Smallwood told me, in reference to Cry, "When we first learned this role, three girls were told that we'd learn this dance, but we could not be guaranteed that we would actually perform onstage. Judith Jamison taught the bulk of it to me. The three of us, who learned the piece, were such individual people, that you can't run this as a group. It was a shock to run through this for sixteen minutes. If we thought about ourselves in the role, we would stop. We had to think of the bigger picture to know what Alvin Ailey was doing.

That image of Judith Jamison jumping up and dancing with each of us, to keep us going, was something I won't forget. Alvin Ailey wrote about joy and about being a black woman. Cry was written as a gift to his mother, who was in the audience. Judith Jamison was the person he put it on to dance for his mother. She was so perfect for this role. I know the steps, but for me it takes a lot of meditation and silence to allow myself to be open. Silence allows people to get closer to the truth. The mental and emotional focus necessary for this piece is immense."

This is a riveting piece, one I had not seen in the four years since the interview, and, luckily, Ms. Smallwood is still dancing this solo. Her use of the long, white, ruffled dress as a prop for life's struggles, life's exuberance, and life's successes, was captivating and charismatic. With all the full company works in the Ailey repertoire, this one-woman piece never ceases to satisfy the viewer on every level. Kudos to Ms. Smallwood.


The River (1970): Choreography by Alvin Ailey, Restaged by Masazumi Chaya, Original Score by Duke Ellington ("The River"), Original Music Coordinator: Martha Johnson, Costumes by A. Christina Giannini, Lighting by Chenault Spence, Performed by the Company. The revival of another Ailey-Ellington collaboration, Originally choreographed for American Ballet Theatre, is about birth, life, and rebirth. There are references to many dance genres, including ballet, jazz, and modern, and, like Cry, The River illustrates the trials and triumphs of life, with intense musicality and propulsion. The dance is divided into Spring, Meander, Giggling Rapids, Lake, Falls, Vortex, Riba (Mainstream), and Twin Cities.

Notable dancers were Rosalyn Deshauteurs and Antonio Douthit in Giggling Rapids, with Mr. Douthit, newly featured in the Ailey Company, fascinating to watch, plus Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims in Lake, with their intense chemistry and seasoned timing. Ms. Sims was ethereal and effervescent, with Mr. Sims athletic and attentive. Alicia Graf danced a solo in Vortex, with sensuality and luminescence.


Revelations (1960): Choreography by Alvin Ailey, Music, Traditional, Décor and Costumes by Ves Harper, Costumes for "Rocka My Soul" Redesigned by Barbara Forbes, Lighting by Nicola Cernovitch, Performed by the Company. The Revelations experience in December is as critical to the season as all of the holidays combined. This renowned Ailey work is now a New York holiday institution. Tonight, Linda Celeste Sims and Amos J. Mechanic, Jr. were almost surreal in the spiritual, Fix Me Jesus. Matthew Rushing danced the solo, I Wanna Be Ready, with its writhing in white and mesmerizing muscularity.

Jamar Roberts, Clifton Brown, and Vernard J. Gilmore were all powerful in the racing and percussive Sinner Man, while the entire company excelled in each and every segment. Thankfully, the final refrain was extended a bit, as usual, to reward the adoring fans. I'm still replaying Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham in my mind.

Matthew Rushing and Dwana Adiaha Smallwood in Revelations by Alvin Ailey

Photo courtesy of Andrew Eccles


Dwana Adiaha Smallwood in Cry by Alvin Ailey

Photo courtesy of Andrew Eccles

 

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