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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

'Shining Star', 'Caught', 'Reminiscin'', 'Revelations'

by Kate Snedeker

September 30, 2005 -- Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland

Though the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was founded nearly 50 years ago, Friday evening was the company's first ever performance in Edinburgh.  Judging by the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response at the packed Edinburgh Festival Theatre, it was a trip long overdue.  The program included “Reminiscin'”, the newest piece in the Ailey repertoire, two contributions by David Parsons, "Shining Star" and "Caught", and the company's signature piece, Alvin Ailey's "Revelations".

It was probably a wise decision to place David Parson's "Shining Star" at the beginning of the program, for though foot-tappingly invigorating, it lacks the choreographic depth of the later pieces.   Bathed in the deep hues of Howell Binkley's strip of lights, five couples in crisp white groove to the music of Earth, Wind & Fire.  Here one can begin to see the Ailey company hallmarks: taut, muscular bodies and movement that makes full use of the body in a non-stop, robust flow.  There is no halfway in this company; each movement is rolled around and given full play in the arms, hips, legs and head.  

Parson takes full advantage of this depth of motion, his mixture of solos, duets and group sections stretching the dancers both outwards and inwards, the extension of limbs as important as the contraction.  Yet in the end, the piece fails these talented Ailey dancers by providing little emotional depth in the choreography.

A quarter century after Parson's "Caught" first flashed across a stage, it still continues to astonish and amaze audiences.  By using a perfectly timed strobe light to illuminate a dancer on a darkened stage, Parsons transforms a simple solo into a breathtaking illusion of suspension.  The dancer -- in this performance, Linda Celeste Sims -- is illuminated only when in the air, so the solo appears as a series of crisp airborne images: a dancer who never touches the earth.

Sims seems to be sometimes floating, sometimes walking and sometimes leaping across an invisible floor.  Her performance was even more impressive given that the solo was designed for male dancers, who have the benefit of more musculature to propel themselves into the air for the strobe-lit positions.  It was too bad, however, that the company was unable to bring the black floor on tour.  Without it  the illusion was not totally complete.  Robert Fripp provided the score.

Judith Jamison's brand new ”Reminiscin'” is a series of loosely intertwined vignettes set to a soundtrack of the best in female jazz singers.  The setting, inspired by Edward Hopper's painting "Night Hawks", is a chrome-stooled bar.  The sleek clientele are dressed in Ann Hould Ward's deep hued, vaguely flapperish dresses and suits, all edged in contrasting florescent colors.   As Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Krall, Regina Carter, Sarah Vaughan, Roberta Flack and Nina Simone croon old jazz favorites, couples float away from the bar and into dance -- sometimes two men, sometimes a man and a woman. There's an energetic, jittery solo for a woman who just can't sit still and a pas de quatre of men in long white jackets with an almost hip-hoppish feel.  

Standing out in almost every scene, and not just for her tall figure, was former Dance Theatre of Harlem principal Alicia Graf.  Her years of ballet belied by her exquisite feet and extraordinary, but controlled flexibility, Graf twisted and oozed her body around the choreography, mixing poise and pizazz in perfect proportions.

There could have been no other choice but to end Edinburgh's first Ailey experience with the master's own "Revelations".  Though forty-five years old, “Revelations” is still a masterpiece of few equals in the dance world.   Taking musical inspiration from the Baptist church services of his Texas youth, Ailey melds traditional spirituals with heartfelt and awe-inspiring dance, creating a piece that touches even British audiences unfamiliar with the American deep south.  The power comes from a melding of movement and music into a perfect harmony, one seemingly inseparable from the other.

In a superb cast, two sections stood out, the first with Linda Celeste Sims and her husband Glenn Allen Sims in a passionate, but deeply moving pas de deux to "Fix Me, Jesus".  The lasting image is of Sims holding his wife, her outstretched arms supporting her weight on his -- offering her up to someone, something.  And then there was the trio of Jamar Roberts, Clifton Brown and Kirven J. Boyd, powering across the stage in "Sinner Man", pulling off bravura feats without ever losing the feeling and groove of the piece.

The finale to "Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham" was greeted by a standing ovation, a rarity in Edinburgh.  It was interesting to see that the audience in Edinburgh, though enthusiastic in applause, does not move and groove to the music in the same way that the NY audiences do.  It seems that Scots are awed and inspired by Ailey, but not quite comfortable enough with the music to let loose.

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