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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: Ailey & Ellington, a Live Performance with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

- Onstage with the Dancers

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
Dacquiri T’Shaun Smittick, 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 18, 2008

(Read about Duke Ellington)

(See Other Ailey Reviews and Photos)

Ailey & Ellington: Live Performance: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. Conducted by Eric Reed. Sponsored by American Express. (All or Smaller Ensemble, except for “Revelations”). Musicians: Trumpets: Wynton Marsalis, Ryan Kisor, Sean Jones, Marcus Printup; Reeds: Sherman Irby, Ted Nash, Walter Blanding, Victor Goines, Paul Nedzela; Trombones: Vincent Gardner, Chris Crenshaw, Eliot Mason, Rhythm: Dan Nimmer, Carlos Henriquez, Ali Jackson; Percussion: Gary Fritz.

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. What a treat to have live music tonight, and from none other than the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, so often reviewed in this magazine. Eric Reed conducted both the full orchestra and, in certain works, a smaller ensemble, both behind the scenes and, later on, visibly onstage. The mood was remarkably different, more like a ballroom, even sometimes like a ballet, with dancers moving with enhanced elegance, their faces lit with the presence of musicians in collaboration. It should be noted up front, that throughout the evening, the Orchestra was, as always, in exceptional form in this all-Ellington event. Wynton Marsalis, the Orchestra’s Music Director, played trumpet tonight, while Eric Reed conducted, and the musicians never upstaged the dancers, but rather added support, style, and spirituality to the experience.

The River is divided into “Spring”, “Meander”, “Giggling Rapids”, “Lake”, “Falls”, “Vortex”, “Riba” (Mainstream), and “Twin Cities”. The metaphor is the journey, and the dancers, in pale blue/white/grey, evoke many genres of dance: classical, jazz, and ballet. Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims were especially captivating as they led the “Lake” segment, with their obvious physical chemistry and mutual comfort. Rachael McClaren was noteworthy in her “Vortex” solo, and the versatile Guillermo Asca led “Riba” with muscularity and intensity.

The Road of the Phoebe Snow (1959, Excerpts): Choreography by Talley Beatty, Restaged by Masazumi Chaya, Music by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, Costumes by Normand Maxon, Lighting by Chenault Spence, Performed by Hope Boykin, Matthew Rushing, Antonio Douthit, Aisha Mitchell, Jamar Roberts. With the support of the full Jazz Orchestra again, a “Jazz Trio” and “Dirty Duet” danced these sexy segments by Talley Beatty with added sparkle. Phoebe Snow was a legendary and elegant lady that rode a train through the Midwest, dressed in satin and lace, while mayhem happened on the tracks in and out of view. In tonight’s two excerpts, Matthew Rushing stood out notably in “Jazz Trio” and Jamar Roberts stood out in “Dirty Duet”. The dancers were exemplifying incidents that may have occurred near the train.

Caravan (1976, Excerpt): Choreography by Louis Falco, Music by Michael Kamen (based on Ellington themes), Décor and original costumes by William Katz, Original Lighting by Richard Nelson, Lighting by Chenault Spence, Performed by Linda Celeste Sims and Clifton Brown. This excerpt of a longer work that I’d not seen since 2002 was performed by the Company’s dynamic duo, Ms. Sims and Mr. Brown. Louis Falco is a well-known dancer and choreographer, who was a Principal with the Jose Limon Dance Company, and formed his own company, the Louis Falco Dance Company. The essence of Caravan is a joyful, buoyant, upbeat mood, with extremely athletic partnering and shifting weight and balancing techniques. I would very much enjoy seeing this full work again, as there is so much to absorb in explosive choreography. The sheer strength of these two dancers speaks to the strength that a full staging would create.

The Mooche (1975, Excerpt): Choreography by Alvin Ailey, Music by Duke Ellington, Costumes by Randy Barcelo, Lighting by Chenault Spence, Performed by Constance Stamatiou, Kirven J. Boyd, Guillermo Asca, Amos J. Mechanic. Jr., Vernard J. Gilmore, Antonio Douthit, Jamar Roberts, Anthony Burrell, Marcus Jarrell Willis. This is another work I’d love to see in its entirety. In 2003, I reviewed the Ellington Orchestra at Birdland, and when I heard “The Mooche”, I noted that it “opened like a train puling into a station. The saxophones and trumpets then built the energy level, with the trumpets muted, off and on, for contrasting effects. There was a sassy, sexy trombone, joking with the orchestra, as if they were jamming at 3 AM.”

Tonight, Constance Stamatiou, a great addition to the Company, appeared in a white dress, hairpiece, and heels and wowed an ensemble of men in top hats, tails, and white gloves. This was the visual pièce de résistance for the evening, so Ellington, so smooth, so dazzling, so midnight, so formal. Ms. Jamison should consider mounting the full productions of tonight’s rarest excerpts. It should also be noted again that in this half of the program the musicians were visible, and they seemed to love this work.

Pas de Duke (1976, Excerpt): Choreography by Alvin Ailey, Music by Duke Ellington (“Clothed Woman”), Costumes by Ruben Ter-Arutunian, Lighting by Chenault Spence, Performed by Linda Celeste Sims. Ms. Sims was busy tonight, re-appearing for a solo here, and what a work this must be in its full presentation. The Ailey website says that this piece was “originally created as a showcase for Judith Jamison and Mikhail Baryshnikov……….Ailey’s modern-dance translation of a classical pas de deux”. Ms. Sims was vibrantly balletic in gesture, as she moved about the stage, solo, in lush sophistication. Her arms and torso took on a noble, dignified appearance.

Three Black Kings (1976, Excerpt): Choreography by Alvin Ailey, Music by Duke and Mercer Ellington (“Three Black Kings”), Costumes by Norman Maxon, Lighting by Chenault Spence, Performed by the Company. The Company, as Martin Luther King, all in long skirts, was powerful in this excerpt, danced with the full Jazz Orchestra. Catching my eye were Guillermo Asca, Olivia Bowman (an artist to watch), Vernard J. Gilmore, and Tina Monica Williams.

Revelations (1960): Choreography by Alvin Ailey, Music, Traditional: Chorus Personnel Manager: Nedra Neal; Musicians: Lawrence R. Wolf, Piano; Paul K. Adamy: Bass, Willie Jones III, Drums; Gary Fritz, Percussion, Décor and Costumes by Ves Harper, Costumes for "Rocka My Soul" Redesigned by Barbara Forbes, Lighting by Nicola Cernovitch, Performed by the Company. This was the first time, I believe, that I’d heard live vocalists and musicians to this renowned masterpiece, and it was almost like watching a new work, with a new sound, a new dynamic. The dancers seemed to absorb the music and move with expanded liveliness and a deeper sense of devotion.

Guillermo Asca’s “I Wanna be Ready” was at one with Robert Mack’s resonant solo, as had been the opening segment, “I Been ‘Buked”, with the full chorus. Arms seemed to stretch with the swelling gospels and piano, while “Wade in the Water” was danced to music by two soloists, Ella Mitchell and Jeffrey Lesley.

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

"The River" by Alvin Ailey
Renee Robinson and Clifton Brown
Courtesy of Lois Greenfield

"The River" by Alvin Ailey
Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims
Courtesy of Lois Greenfield

"Revelations" by Alvin Ailey
AAADT Company Members
Courtesy of Andrew Eccles

"Revelations" by Alvin Ailey
AAADT Company Members
Courtesy of Andrew Eccles

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