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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Suite Otis, Uptown, Love Stories

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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
At City Center

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, Senior Director, Performance and Production
Terence Dale, Company Manager
Thomas Cott, Director of Marketing
Lynette P. Rizzo, Associate Director of Marketing
Christopher Zunner, Director of Public Relations

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 12, 2009

(See Other Ailey Reviews and Photos)

Suite Otis (1971) A Tribute to the Late Otis Redding, Dedicated to Thelma Hill: Choreography and costumes by George Faison, Music performed by Otis Redding, Lighting by Chenault Spence, Performed by Anthony Burrell, Renee Robinson, Vernard J. Gilmore, Kirven James Boyd, Yannick Lebrun, Marcus Jarrett Willis, Samuel Lee Roberts, Yusha-Marie Sorzano, Hope Boykin, Tina Monica Williams, Akua Parker, Aisha Mitchell. George Faison’s 1971 Suite Otis, which I last saw performed by another Company several years ago in Lincoln Center Out of Doors, is full of color, literally, with bright pink - maroon costumes, Ms. Robinson in a mature, black gown, and bright jazzy music by Otis Redding. Something about this work reminded me of films of the old Cotton Club, with a hint of The Rockettes. This was such enthusiastic and vigorous choreography that the audience leaned forward, to take it all in. Renee substance. The lead male cast was chivalrous and charming in its urbane partnering.

Uptown (2009): Choreography by Matthew Rushing, Assistants to the Choreographer: Renee Robinson and Samuel Deshauteurs, Script by Matthew Rushing & Gregor L. Gibson, Music by Various Artists, Original composition by Ted Rosenthal, Costume concept & design by Matthew Rushing, Costume consultants & design by John Taylor and Dante Baylor. Lighting & scenic design by Al Crawford, Photographs by Various Artists, Dramatic coaching by Hope Clarke, Swing dance consultant: Clyde Wilder, Performed by the Company.

With a fresh historical perspective, Matthew Rushing, a long-time dancer in the Ailey Company, has created, designed, and choreographed, assisted by Renee Robinson and Samuel Deshauteurs, a work about Harlem, its origins and its Cotton Club. Harlem in the 1920’s comes to life through dance, with a retro Victrola, Paul Robeson’s “No More Auction Block” (with rear stage documentary projections), Ted Rosenthal’s composition, “Welcome to Harlem”, Fats Waller’s “This Joint is Jumpin”, excerpts of an original interview of W. E. B. Dubois by Moses Asch, Johnny Alston’s “Hit that Jive Jack”, Ted Rosenthal’s compositions for “Divas, Apples, and Jazz”, Eubie Blake’s “I’m Just Wild about Harry”, Langston Hughes’ poem, “The Weary Blues”, and Ted Rosenthal’s “Uptown”, commissioned for this work.

“Welcome to Harlem”, with the Company, was followed by “Rent Party”, about a joyous, jiving fund-raising party for a down-low tenant. Hope Boykin was an impassioned “Ladylife”, while Amos J. Machanic, Jr. was Victor, and this segment was immensely entertaining. The “Divas” included Linda Celeste Sims as Florence Mills, Rosalyn Deshauteurs as Josephine Baker, and Tina Monica Williams as Ethel Waters, all strutting about in an elegant ballroom, with grand costumes, postures, and lots of adoration. Clifton Brown danced a solo in “Weary Blues”, personifying Langston Hughes. And, in the Cotton Club finale, Mr. Machanic, Jr. re-appeared with the white tie and tails, costumed dancers as Victor, the lead character of this elegant and poignant opus.

Love Stories (2004): Choreography by Judith Jamison with Robert Battle & Rennie Harris, Assistant to Rennie Harris: Nina Flagg, Music by Stevie Wonder, Original composition composed and produced by Darrin Ross, Costumes by Susan Hilferty, Costume Assistant: Maiko Matsushima, Lighting & visual design by Al Crawford, Performed by Kirven James Boyd, Yusha-Marie Sorzano, Briana Reed, Olivia Bowman Jackson, Rachael McLaren, Akua Parker, Vernard J. Gilmore, Yannick Lebrun, Marcus Jarrell Willis, Samuel Lee Roberts, Michael Francis McBride.

Steve Wonder’s score was robust and charismatic, as was Clifton Brown in the lead role in Judith Jamison’s 2004 Love Stories. Robert Battle and Rennie Harris were choreographic assistants, and they put the dancers into retro workout shorts, then sleek leotards, then hip-hop jumpsuits, as the 1950’s merged to the 2000’s. Alvin Ailey’s voice-overs, so wonderful to hear, paid homage to Ailey’s dreams for his company to have its own vital home. The cathedral setting bookend the work with references to the Ailey Company origins and its future home on West 55th Street, NY.

The lighting and visual design by Al Crawford is central to this work, with flashing, flickering, fading lights, so symbolic, so surreal. The finale brings the dancers stage rear, perhaps facing Mr. Ailey himself, with hanging tubes of light that probably resemble the spartan décor of the original Ailey Dance Theatre. In addition to Mr. Brown, Aisha Mitchell, Constance Stamatiou, and Antonio Douthit particularly caught my eye.

Kudos to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. You can catch them on tour by checking

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
in "Suite Otis"
Courtesy of Steve Vaccariello

Amos J. Machanic, Jr. in "Uptown"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Yusha -Marie Sorzano and Linda Celeste Sims
in "Uptown"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Clifton Brown in "Love Stories"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at