Ailey company brings audience to its feet

March 05, 1993|By J. L. Conklin | J. L. Conklin,Contributing Writer

If you are looking for a way to chase the midwinter blues, a reason to smile, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre is in Baltimore this weekend at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre. This popular company, under the artistic direction of Judith Jamison,If you are looking for a way to chase the midwinter blues, a reason to smile, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre is in Baltimore this weekend at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre. This popular company, under the artistic direction of Judith Jamison, opened its four-day engagement with a benefit performance that attracted this city's cultural elite and wowed the most jaded audience member with with their power-packed dancing.

The opening-night program featured two old favorites, "Fontessa and Friends" and the company's signature work, "Revelations." Additionally, the troupe offered up a company premiere, "Shelter." Throughout all three wildly disparate works, it was the company's sense of ensemble, their pure and attractive physicality, and fine technique that brought cheers from the audience. Even when the choreography was lightweight, as in the opening number, "Fontessa and Friends," their dancing is still magic.

"Fontessa and Friends," choreographed by Louis Johnson, is a surreal parody of romance and romantic ideals. Dancing with a -- of ham and slapstick, Renee Robinson, as the ultimate party girl, preened and posed before the audience. Her daydreams of ideal romance, danced by Elisabeth Roxas and Antonio Carlos Scott, are juxtaposed against her own comedic fantasies of the hunk in the sequined briefs. "Fontessa" often felt as if had been choreographed by Fellini -- but certainly not as satisfying.

The heart of the evening was the company premiere of "Shelter," a dance choreographed by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. Ms. Zollar's work is political without being pedantic, moral without being moribund. Combining poetry and percussion, Ms. Zollar brilliantly captured the spirit of the disenfranchised, in all its terrifying and awesome aspects.

"Shelter," danced with brilliance by Sarita Allen, Raquelle Chavis, Deborah Manning, Danelle Gee, Toni Pierce and Desire Vlad explores the concept of being homeless.

As the text speaks of the fear of falling "down, down, down . . . off the margin," the six women balance on one leg, suspended midair as if on the edge of a precipice. Their movements slowly erode, and they crumple to the floor. They crawl across the stage and, like animals in the bush, rest on each other's bodies.

As the percussion takes over the dance, bodies vibrate against the sound of cymbals, and the women are vibrantly attuned to the rhythms of the drums like lives attached to the rhythms of the city.

RF Of course, it wouldn't be an Ailey opening without "Revelations."

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