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Jessica Abrams
Alvin Ailey Dance Theater
Performance Reviews
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center
United States
Greater Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA

Ailey performance instills spiritual connection

by Jessica Abrams
April 27, 2013
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center
135 N. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 972-3099

Featured Dance Company:

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

Going to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles on a Spring evening is an event. An excitement fills the air – an excitement at seeing America's foremost modern dance company, and a predominantly African-American one at that, perform in the city where its founder began his career. An excitement that, despite the lure of the so-called social experience that exists in cyberspace, people still seek this kind of communion. Exiting the elevator on the top floor, I looked down over the music center, over Jacques Lipchitz's Peace on Earth statue. In the distance the Hollywood sign glowed against the dusk-shadowed hills. Already this was more than most Saturday nights could, or did, offer.

Then the performance started.

Ronald K. Brown's "Grace" begins with Linda Celeste Sims, clad in a white pantsuit reminiscent of a 1970's Hollywood party dancing to Jimmy McPhail's haunting rendition of Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday". Her grace, as it were, extends to the top row of the nosebleed (where I am sitting), and her benevolence is palpable, her spirit effervescent. Then the mood shifts. The pulsating "Gabriel" by Roy Davis Jr. turns the stage into a club at two in the morning, and dancers clad in white and red stream out to light up the dance floor. In their diagonal formations they gyrate and flow, a symphony of prowess – technical, visual, energetic. It is difficult to describe the spirit that permeates the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at this moment. It is as if these factions of red and white, these angels and devils, are pulling us onto the dance floor to experience the full range of the human experience playing out in kicks, turns, bumps and grinds. The piece ends with the goddess in white once again taking over the stage, telling us, to yet another rendition of "Come Sunday", that we flawed, misguided humans will always be given absolution.

I need an intermission to recover, to process. I don't get it because during the intermission the curtain is up and on stage a lithe dancer in a streamlined business suit is goofing around to music in the background – vaguely Latin beats, some old-school standards. The audience laughs nervously – is he an audience member? A roadie gifted with a rare opportunity? When the better part of the company floods the stage some ten minutes later, all wearing the same suit, we get our answer. Chairs come out and are arranged in a semi-circle. Ohad Naharin's "Minus 16" begins.

For those who haven't seen this piece choreographed by Israel's foremost choreographer, I feel like I should include a spoiler alert – because the surprise of the entr'acte dancer is the first of many. Seated in chairs, the dancers begin a synchronized system of moves to the Passover song "Echad mi Yode'a". The song is a repetitive chant for children; and as such the dancers perform the same moves, from stage right to left, each time ending with the end dancer throwing himself onto the floor, again and again. Then the dancers begin to shed jackets, pants and hats. The synchronized movement ends with the clothes in a pile on the floor.

"Over The Rainbow" comes on and the fun really begins.

The dancers, once again suited up, leave the safe haven of the stage and enter the audience. They each bring an audience member onto the stage. Everyone starts dancing. The man in his sixties shimmies and shakes. The African-American woman in a floral blouse happily inhabits center stage and dazzles the audience with her stage presence. The crowd is laughing, screaming. The man behind me punctuates his viewing with "Word!" every few moments. I feel as if I am at a rock concert, so totally enveloped by the performance and the crowd's reaction to it. The joy – on and off-stage – is palpable. The piece ends. And ends again. And again. My body is tingling. My friend and I turn to each other. "I may never be the same again," she says.

The night ends with the masterpiece "Revelations", whose classic American idiom and exuberance is made that much more awe-inspiring given the other two pieces, as it rightfully claims its place in this vast and impressive dance lexicon. I find myself trying to imagine Alvin Ailey and his dancers performing this American standard to worldwide audiences in the sixties and seventies. I find myself feeling a sense of pride that this country, my country, helped make this gift possible.

I felt many things that night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion: that classics can hold their own even when new energy threatens to shake them up. That dance can be more than just a spectacle and that we — choreographer, performer and audience member alike – do our part to contribute to that experience. "Minus 16" reminds us that, despite the disconnected world we think we live in, there is always the power of dance to transform us.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Rennie Harris' 'Home'

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Rennie Harris' "Home"

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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