Alvin Ailey Bliss Continues

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The holiday season in New York City brings forth many cultural traditions: the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center, the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, the ball drop in Times Square and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s performance series at The City Center.  This year, Alvin Ailey’s diverse troupe, led by Artistic Director, Judith Jamison blessed New Yorkers from November 30, 2005 through January 1, 2006.

This 2005 season featured 20 pieces; world premieres intermixed with older classics.  Four premiere pieces, Ife/My Heart, Witness, Solo, and Reminiscin’, were featured on Wednesday, December 21st, giving the audience an eye into the future of Ailey repertory.

Ife/My Heart, choreographed by the accomplished Ailey veteran, Ronald K. Brown, is a blend of modern and African dance infused with hip-hop style.  This world premiere featured nine male and female dancers dressed in all white dancing to a medley of drum-infused songs from Nigeria, Cuba and North America.  The songs included lyrics taken from poetry by Nikki Giovanni and Ursula Rucker set to African drum beats and Latin-tinged melodies.  The spiritual theme of the piece was reinforced by the combination of the white costumes, which transports the audience to a Southern Baptist church; the signature Ailey modern moves and the musical selection.  Unconditional love, particularly within his own family, inspired Brown’s choreography, expressed through three “familiesâ€? of dancers who eventually join together.  In the final song of the ballet, a spiritual and political poem entitled “Releaseâ€? by Ursula Rucker backed up by a Afro-Latino drumbeat brought the dancers together and asked the audience “How will you answer?â€? when faced with judgment day.  The song and poem encourage the audience to “release their heartâ€? as the dancers join together for an enthusiastic finale.

“Witness,â€? a new production of one of Ailey’s final choreographed works, features a female soloist on a spiritual journey.  The stage was set with hundreds of candles and three benches in which the dancer effortlessly floated around.  Featured soloist, Asha Thomas, showcased her control and athleticism through her interpretation of the ballet and modern choreography.  She had incredible strength in her leg extensions, turns, form and use of the space.  During the nine minute piece, Thomas commanded the audience’s attention as she connected her fluid body movements with the raw emotion of the music, “My Soul is a Witness,â€? sung by Jessye Norman.  Her basic pure white leotard and flowing white skirt matched the simplicity of the stage’s décor.  Thomas delivered a captivating performance, letting the audience bear witness to her evocative spiritual expression. 

Solo, another company premiere, featured three upbeat male soloists, representing three different sides of the same man.  Choreographed by Hans van Manen and set to the frenzied violins of “Violin Suiteâ€? by Johann Sebastian Bach, the dancers, Abdur-Rahim Jackson, Jamar Roberts, and Antonio Douthit, seemed to battle each other; each trying to outdo the previous dancer.  Not only were the male soloists energetic and agile; but they interacted with the audience with their smiles, playful facial expressions and boastful movements.  Each dancer showcased his athletic ability through precise and powerful jumps and spins combined with their clean ballet technique.  As if one dancer alone was not enough to engage the audience; they ended the piece uniting together radiating a contagious energy. 

The final piece of night was Reminiscin’, another world premiere, choreographed by Judith Jamison.  This piece explores the complexities of personal relationships between friends and lovers.  Reminiscin’ takes place in a diner, depicted on stage with a counter and stools set up in the back corner.  It begins with the dancers flirtatiously sauntering onto the stage to the sounds of “Love Me or Leave Meâ€? performed by jazz legend, Sarah Vaughn.  The opening scene demonstrates various nuances of male and female relationships; problems raised by the wandering eyes of attached men through couples switching dance partners, and displays the social bonds of women as the women dancers congregated by the bar.  Reminiscin’ features the sultry sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Krall, and Roberta Flack; as the men and women flirt using the bodies in a fluid, sensual style.  They dance together, men alone, women alone, as if to seduce one another.  Their modern and jazz movements give the audience a reflection of courtship rituals, such as the male dancers flexing their muscles and showcasing their bodies through gyrations, particularly during “Mandingo Streetâ€? performed by Regina Carter.  This scene of male posing and posturing is no different than any nightclub in New York City.  Reminiscin’ comes full circle, ending with “Love Me or Leave Me,â€? this version by Nina Simone; as one couple finds sweet love on the dance floor.  

Each Alvin Ailey performance takes the audience on an emotional journey; one can’t help but self-reflect on love, spirituality, society.  The talent of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is not only in their awesome technical dance skills but in the way they engage your eyes, ears, heart and mind.

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