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Thursday, May 01, 2014

That’s Alvin, Folks!

From the Vault Dept.: Dance isn’t as frequent an area visitor as it was in decades past. I suspect that my reference to the audience size at this 1988 appearance in Schenectady by the Alvin Ailey company was a veiled way of noting that it was still a pitiful turnout. Unlike that sported by the dancers themselves.


WITH THE EXCELLENCE of the reputation the Alvin Ailey American Dance theater enjoys, it’s no wonder there was a larger-than-is-usual-for-dance turnout at Proctor’s Theatre Friday evening. And the company certainly did nothing to disappoint those high expectations. Technically and theatrically, this company is stunning.

"The Lark Ascending," photo by Donald Moss
“American Dance Theater” is a key. The Ailey sensibility goes beyond the strictures even modern dance has imposed upon itself, exploring movement using the tools of the stage director, informing the always-challenging choreography with enlightening wisps of plot and characterization, finding tension and release in the clash of dancer and dancer, and dancer and stage.

“Bad Blood” was a good example. A 1986 work choreographed by Ulysses Dove, it’s a series of vignettes in which sexual tension is played out against a stark backdrop of knotted rope.

Breathtakingly acrobatic, “Bad Blood” features seven dancers in varying combinations of number who approach, examine, and eventually combine with one another on a level as metaphoric as the Laurie Anderson music that accompanies the piece.

Stripping these urges to a starker level still was the 1979 “Treading,” a dance by Elisa Monte in which Carl Bailey and Deborah Manning coyly courted one another with a nice sense of wit before throwing themselves into a dance stunningly erotic without the least bit of self-consciousness, and thus entirely successful.

The music was excerpted from Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians,” a study of rhythm and texture the dullness of which is its most memorable characteristic. Too much of the music chosen for this program lacked sincerity, and just as it should be true that no cook would use a wine that isn’t drinkable, so should no choreographer use a tune that isn’t listenable.

Reich, like Anderson and Andreas Vollenweider, whose music underscored “Caverna Magica,” works in a highly self-consciousness corner of the musical world invented to satisfy the desires of the ephemerally-eared: those for whom music is mere background sound.

“Caverna” presented a Dante-esque world of mystical light and substance in which dance is a ritual, in this case centered around the Virgin Mother figure of April Berry.

This was the only work on the program in which theatricality threatened the dance. Too much chasing after special effects (including an enormously silly thunder and light show) detracted from what otherwise is a fascinating study of ritualistic movement.

“The Lark Ascending,” which opened the program, was a gentle contrast to all that followed. Set to the wistful violin serenade by Vaughan Williams, Ailey’s choreography offered a simple, earthy dance by Elizabeth Roxas and Danny Clark as five couples moved in effective counterpoint, as if to set the stage for the sensuality that would follow.

– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 1 February 1988

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