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Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
Alvin Ailey Dance Theater
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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 5, 2004
New York, NY

Featured Dance Company:

Alvin Ailey Dance Theater
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
405 West 55th Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 405-9000

About the Author:

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater


Alvin Ailey - Founder
Judith Jamison - Artistic Director
Joan H. Weill, Chairman, 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
Lynette Rizzo, Associate Director, Marketing
Beth Olsen - Associate Director, Public Relations
Cohn Davis Associates— Publicity

(See Other Ailey Reviews and Photos)
(See Ailey School Groundbreaking Ceremony)
(See Dwana Adiaha Smallwood Interview)

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 5, 2004

Heart Song (2003): (See December 12, 2003 Heart Song Review). Choreography by Alonzo King, Assistants to the Choreographer: Debra Rose, Lauren Porter, Music Composed and Performed by Bouchaib Abdelhadi, Yassir Chadly, Hafida Ghanim, Costumes Designed by Robert Rosenwasser, Lighting Designed by Axel Morgenthaler, Scenic Design by Robert Rosenwasser, Performed by Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell, Dwana Adiaha Smallwood, Linda Celeste Sims, Venus Hall, Briana Reed, Asha Thomas, Wendy White Sasser, Rosalyn Deshauteurs, Tina Monica Williams, Matthew Rushing, Amos J. Mechanic, Jr., Clifton Brown, Samuel Deshauteurs, Dion Wilson, Abdur-Rahim Jackson, Clyde Archer, Willy Laury.

This piece had a hopeful start, with hypnotic, African chants against wild gyrations of dancers in short skirts with round lights. However, hypnotic and electric seemed to wax into repetitive and generic, as the chants and solo stringed instruments merged into backdrops for darker and more camouflaged costumes. Alonzo King has a wonderful concept, but the jump-rope and floating motifs of gymnastic dance did not seem to harness the best of this virtuosic ensemble. Then again, it's always exciting to see Ms. Smallwood, Ms. Fisher-Harrell, Ms. Sims, Mr. Rushing, Mr. Archer, and the other striking dancers in evocative and energetic form.

Burlesque (2002): Choreography by Donald Byrd, Restaged by Stephanie Guiland-Brown, Music by Louis Armstrong, Costumes by Emilio Sosa, Lighting by Jack Mehler, Scenic Design by Jack Mehler, Performed by Dwana Adiaha Smallwood, Linda Celeste Sims, Tina Monica Williams, Hope Boykin, Dion Wilson, Vernard J. Gilmore, Samuel Deshauteurs, Antonio Douthit.

For a devotee of Savoy Swing and Louis Armstrong, it was difficult to see this teasing, Vaudevillian spoof, with such incredible talent onstage with boas, corsets, plumes, fans, suspenders, bowler hats, and little real dance. Burlesque is about what happens when the dancers are at ease, behind a bright, red curtain, frolicking with each other, begging the audience for attention and accolades, scratching fleas, and falling from liquor, general fatigue, and poor health.

This is creative choreography, and I longed to see these four couples do some real Swing partnering with style and continuity. I know that was not Mr. Byrd's point, but it reminded me of a play I once saw that had snippets of Chopin on two pianos, with no more than a bar or two amidst campy, slapstick humor. In this case, the campy, slapstick humor was well characterized and incredibly performed, but it was impossible to hear this rousing, rarified music, such as Twelfth Street Rag and Savoy Stomp, and not wish for one complete dance, even by suggested accident.

Costumes, lighting, and sets were perfectly conceived. Colors were bright and iridescent against the blackness of the imaginary stage. The flea-scratching scene, like dominoes falling in rotation, was on split-perfect timing. Yet, I wished for partnered legs kicking forward and back (Savoy Swing) and controlled postures. This was a dance in ballroom shoes, not bare feet, and the versatile and vivacious Ailey Company can switch moods and motifs on a dime.

Revelations (1960): (See December 17, 2003 Revelations Review). 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.

Whenever I see Revelations (every year at least twice), the song phenomenon occurs that night. Almost every song plays back in my mind in sleep, in wakeful fits of trying to recall words and images, and in a general sense of nurturing comfort and aesthetic inspiration. Every December, I start replaying in my mind Wade in the Water (with the billowing blue material), I Wanna be Ready (for solo male dancer in pure white), and Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham, among others. This is active audience participation, having experienced, internalized, anticipated, and re-experienced the work in cyclical fashion, like an emotional fix.

Sinner Man was spiritually rousing and riveting, Fix Me, Jesus was elevating, and You May Run On was the warm-up to the Finale of Rocka My Soul…and the encore of the same. Alvin Ailey was a genius, and his works transcend all current, political discussions of religious reverence. Revelations is the highest form of art, with visual, musical, choreographic, emotional, and energetic strengths. Kudos to Alvin Ailey and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell in Alonzo King's "Heart Song."
Photo courtesy of Andrew Eccles

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