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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Three Black Kings, Solo, Vespers, Winter in Lisbon

- Onstage with the Dancers

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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
Robert Battle – Artistic Director Designate
Sharon Gersten Luckman --Executive Director
Calvin Hunt, Senior Director, Performance and Production
Dacquiri T’Shaun Smittick, Company Manager
Thomas Cott, Director of Marketing
Lynette P. Rizzo, Associate Director of Marketing
Christopher Zunner, Director of Public Relations
Emily Hawkins, Public Relations Manager

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 19, 2010

(See Other Ailey Reviews and Photos)

Three Black Kings (1976): Choreography by Alvin Ailey, Music by Duke and Mercer Ellington (“Three Black Kings”), Live Music by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Original costumes by Norman Maxon, Costume redesign by Jon Taylor, Lighting by Chenault Spence and William Burd, Conducted by Christopher Crenshaw, Performed by the Company as King Balthazar, King Solomon, and Martin Luther King.

Duke Ellington composed “Three Black Kings” as a last major musical work in 1974 in hospital bed instructions to his son, Mercer. The three movements celebrate “King Balthazar”, King Solomon, and Martin Luther King, with sweeping music that spans African roots and Southern spiritual genres. Jamar Roberts led the first as King Balthazar, and his imposing presence, leading five male dancers, was astounding. But the second and third movements were even more mesmerizing, with Clifton Brown (King Solomon) and Linda Celeste Sims in signature Ailey photo finishes, figures that sear the memory with outsized dance drama. Matthew Rushing in white shirt and pants (Martin Luther King) partnered Renee Robinson, and they seized the stage. Mr. Rushing’s solos were eloquent and reverential, but when he was lifted by four of the men and carried and swung side to side, one could feel Mr. Ailey’s pain in the loss of a contemporary hero.

It was thrilling to watch this performance with Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra stage rear. Christopher Crenshaw conducted, and the musicians seemed magnetized to the motion onstage. There was palpable chemistry between both ensembles, with the dancers exuberantly maximizing the power of the score. With icons like Victor Goines and Ted Nash on saxophone, Wynton Marsalis and Ryan Kisor on trumpets, Vincent Gardner on trombone, and Dan Nimmer on piano, the audience certainly got a rare night at City Center.

Solo (1997): Choreography by Hans van Manen, Staged by Mea van Dijken Venema, Music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Costumes by Keso Dekker, Lighting Design by Joop Caboort, Performed by Guillermo Asca, Yannick Lebrun, Antonio Douthit. The mood changed in the second work, Hans van Manen’s Solo, to music by Johann Sebastian Bach. Three men, Guillermo Asca, Yannick Lebrun, and Antonio Douthit, in mostly campy, dervish dance, took turns onstage in a sort of dance competition or guy’s night out, dance style. There were humorous gestures, like pointing to and beckoning each other, as well as detached attitudinal spins and comedic, spirited exits into the wings. As an interlude, this piece works.

Vespers (1986): Choreography by Ulysses Dove, Music by Mikel Rouse, Lighting Design by William H. Grant III, Performed by Briana Reed, Ghrai DeVore, Tina Monica Williams, Rosalyn Deshauteurs, Megan Jakel, Akua Noni Parker.

Vespers, with wooden chairs right and left stage like a church setting, grows on the viewer, and this was my favorite viewing. Mikel Rouse’s percussive, electrically charged score (“Quorum”) drives the momentum, with five women, led by Briana Reed and Ghrai DeVore, in black costumes. The chairs, as props, are rearranged or available for momentary rest, as the dancers propel themselves across the stage and against each other. Ulysses Dove's medium is stark sensation, and the audience was breathless throughout.

The Winter in Lisbon (1992) (Dedicated to the Memory of Gary Deloatch.): Choreography by Billy Wilson, Restaged by Masazumi Chaya, Music by Dizzy Gillespie (and Charles Fishman, Live Music by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Costumes by Barbara Forbes, Lighting by Chenault Spence, Conducted by Christopher Crenshaw, Performed by Renee Robinson, Glenn Allen Sims, and the Company.

One of the less dramatic dances in the Ailey repertoire, The Winter in Lisbon, is uplifting and cathartic. It's a perfect closer, a feel-good dance, pulsating, like Revelations, with Dizzy Gillespie's soaring jazz, with American, Latin, and African roots. Renee Robinson and Glenn Allen Sims were outstanding and edgy in the Lisbon duo, and, in San Sebastian, Guillermo Asca danced with magnetic presence. Billy Wilson has a ballet and Broadway background, and his versatility and eclectic approach to the music were obvious in the choreographed techniques, showcasing this four-segment work. Barbara Forbes’ bright costumes are notable for encapsulating the effervescence of the mood.

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

Glenn Allen Sims, Jamar Roberts,
and Clifton Brown in
Alvin Ailey's "Three Black Kings"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Glenn Allen Sims in
Ailey's "Three Black Kings"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Clifton Brown in
Hans van Manen's "Solo"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Linda Celeste Sims and Courtney Corbin
in Ulysess Dove's "Vespers"
Courtesy of Andrew Eccles

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in
Ulysess Dove's "Vespers"
Courtesy of Andrew Eccles

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