Troupe soars in paean to Ailey, world dances

May 14, 1994|By J. L. Conklin | J. L. Conklin,Special to The Sun

Beware, watching the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform can give you a high. The company's stirring performances Thursday of two Baltimore premieres and the traditional Ailey favorite, "Revelations," virtually up-lifted the Mechanic Theatre audience to a standing ovation.

The opening-night performance overflowed with outstanding virtuosity and craftsmanship that was coupled with the company's inherent message that dance is good for the soul.

Garth Fagan's "Jukebox for Alvin" opened the program of three dances. More of a magical mystery tour than a jukebox, the dance is a melting pot of dance styles -- smatterings of African, Middle Eastern, Caribbean and popular movement -- set to a tapestry of music by Dvorak, Taj Mahal, Keith Jarrett and Sly Dunbar & Robbie Shakespear.

"Jukebox" began with a solo by Desmond Richardson, whose expert balance, clear lines and fluidity is remarkable. His solo, "Presence Absence," was an obvious tribute to Ailey, and his powerful and graceful dancing evoked emotions ranging from conviction, curiosity and yearning.

A procession of highly flavored group dances ensued. First came the company's "Present Past" with an urban street-market strut overlaid with reggae rhythms. "Absence Absence," a stunning and haunting sextet full of ritualized moves and mysterious spins, followed. The dance concluded with "Version of Hope," a brightly spirited and energetic work that resonated with images of the tropics.

"Hymn," choreographed by the company's Artistic Director Judith Jamison, is really a credo. Her work blends taped reminisences of the company's early days, memories of founder Alvin Ailey, insights into the company's most well-known dance, "Revelations," and succinct observations on the life of a dancer with movements that elucidate and complement the spoken words.

At its core, "Hymn" shouts the secret that every dancer knows -- that dancing is more about the spirit than about mere physicality (although discipline is a necessary ingredient). And just to show that Ms. Jamison and company know what they are talking about, the dance reverberates with power. Seeing the company in unison is awesome. Getting to know the dancers as individuals makes them human.

While the dance begins and ends with the voice of Ailey, the epilogue is not necessary. That final image of the company's many beautiful bodies and spirits holds witness to Ms. Jamison's and Ailey's beliefs.


What: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Where: Morris M. Mechanic Theatre, Hopkins Plaza

When: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. today; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. tomorrow

Tickets: $27-$40

Call: (410) 625-1400

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