Can anyone think of a better perk than seeing three Alvin Ailey creations accompanied by the music of Duke Ellington, plus that perennial gem "Revelations?" That was the happy state when, on Dec. 2, we witnessed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in the celebration consisting of "Night Creature," "Pas de Duke," and "The River."
Opening with "Night Creature" to the lilting score from "Ailey Celebrates Ellington" played by the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band under the direction of Jon Faddis, we were immediately sent into an ecstatic state.
This is one of the few Ailey creations where, in addition to his fabulous jazz structures, a considerable amount of ballet is discernible. Never fear, jazz still predominates. Ailey was a master craftsman and blender; you could hardly tell where one form began and the other left off.
When the dancers held attitudes and positions à la seconde firmly, their flawless, eclectic training was apparent. Grand jetés by the men stylized into a curved Ailey leap and were performed to such great height that audible gasps of astonishment emanated from the audience. Some of the arm movements with hands positioned by tapering downward gave the illusion of feline capers.
Dwana Adiaha Smallwood and Troy O'Neil Powell led the company in Movements 1 and 3, and Ms. Smallwood and Amos J. Machanic, Jr. led Movement 2.
The work was inspired by Duke Ellington's words: "Night Creatures, unlike stars, do not come out at night—they come on, each thinking that before the night is out he or she will be the star." Prophetic words, for this is a star-oriented company, judging from performances memorably pictured in the initial offering.
In 1976, "Pas de Duke" was originally created for Mikhail Baryshnikov and Judith Jamison (now artistic director of the Ailey company). Both were world-class stars from what would appear to be opposing sides—ballet and contemporary dance. The intriguing provocation turned out a real fun piece. No less fun were the performances by Asha Thomas and Richard Witter on Dec. 2, although Thomas accented sparkling personality, while Witter accented stunning technique.
"The River," which was originally commissioned by American Ballet Theatre and performed by that company in 1970-71, seemed to be missing from the dance world for quite a time. The Ailey company had performed it spasmodically. A major collaboration between Ailey and Ellington, originally the music was supposed to depict the course of a river from source to sea. Ellington extended the idea into an allegory on birth, life, and rebirth. Ailey utilized jazz, ballet, and modern dance, and the work illustrates his craftsmanship anew in all three forms.
Notable performances included those of Amos J. Machanic, Jr., Briana Reed, and Benoit-Swan Pouffer in "Meander"; Linda-Denise Evans and Glenn A. Sims in "Lake"; Richard Witter, Clifton Brown, Guillermo Asca, and Samuel Deshauteurs in "Falls"; Troy O'Neil Powell and Company in "Riba (Mainstream)"; and Renee Robinson and Richard Witter leading the company in the concluding "Twin Cities."
This year marks the 40th anniversary of "Revelations." I was present at the 92nd St. Y in 1960 for the premiere and have seen the work countless times since then. It never fails to rejuvenate us and leave a golden glow. On this occasion, dancers in the potent cast included Benoit-Swan Pouffer, Hope Boykin, and Wendy White Sasser in "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel"; Linda-Denise Evans and Glenn A. Sims performing "Fix Me, Jesus"; Kristofer Storey, Anthony Burrell, and Vernard J. Gilmore blazing through "Sinner Man"; and the entire company in "Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham."
The 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center continues its free Fridays at noon series with informal performances by established and emerging choreographers on Dec. 15. The works of three choreographers will be seen—Iaan Egeland, Aviva Geismar, and Naomi Ramirez. A relaxed discussion with the artists follows each performance. Admission is free. All events in the series take place from 12-1 pm in Buttenweiser Hall on the second floor of the 92nd Street Y, located at the corner of E. 92nd St. and Lexington Ave., NYC.
A series of premieres by Dwight Rhoden, performed by Desmond Richardson, Carmen De Lavallade, Gus Solomons, Jr., Sarita Allen, and Sandra Brown, along with live music performed by vibraphonist Stefon Harris and violinist Charles Veal, Jr., will highlight a special benefit performance entitled "Higher Ground." The event takes place at the Hudson Theater on Dec. 17 at 8 pm. A celebration of dancers and dance in all its forms, the evening will also launch "Ready, Set, Dance," an innovative program created by Complexions to introduce inner city children to the art form. Patrick Swayze will host the evening.
Additional participating dancers will be Sant'gria Bello, Brian Chung, William Isaac, Mark Mann, Jeffrey Poiston, Antonio Carlos Scott, Jamal Storey, Michael Thomas, and Donald Williams.
In addition to their joint directorship of Complexions, Rhodes and Richardson, both distinguished Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater alumni, have independent artist careers.
A racially diverse, multigenerational company of 16 ballet and modern dancers, Complexions was created in 1994 by Rhoden and Richardson to address, explore, and celebrate the political, social, and cultural issues that currently face society.
The Dec. 17 performance also includes an optional dinner and cocktail party. Tickets for the performance are $250 each. Benefit proceeds will be used to support Complexion's newly established "Ready, Set, Dance." As part of this innovative program, 75 seats are being donated to young people between the ages of 12 and 16 to attend the performance. A portion of monies raised that evening will also be contributed to the Complexions New Works Performance Fund.
The Hudson Theater is located at 145 W. 44th St., NYC. Tickets are available by calling (212) 479-0845. Tickets may also be charged by calling (800) 965-4827.
Rosa Mei's new interpretation of Dante's "Divine Comedy" combines dance with elements of Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty. The script combines parts of Dante's original text with federal aviation evacuation procedures and tales from oral mythology.
Dancers morph from animals to primal creatures to angels. All types of beasts and saints are included in a sensual allegory about sin and redemption.
Venue: St. Mark's Church in the Bowery, 131 E. 10th St., at Second Ave., NYC., Dec. 14-17 at 8:30 pm. Admission: $15 or TDF. Students and seniors $12. Reservations: (212) 674-8194.