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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

'Love Stories', 'Acceptance in Surrender', 'Vespers', 'Revelations'

by Carmel Morgan

March 23 , 2007 -- Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, Memphis, Tennessee

The world-renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater brought the audience to its feet during its opening night at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts in Memphis, Tennessee.  The evening’s performance presented a series of moving portraits that showcased the tremendous talent and soul of the Ailey dancers.   

The show opened with “Love Stories,” a choreographic collaboration between Artistic Director Judith Jamison, Robert Battle, and Rennie Harris set to the music of Stevie Wonder.  Clifton Brown begins the work with a pensive yet playful solo.  Bathed in golden light broken into window pane fragments, he warms up alone in a dance studio, balancing and extending his incredibly long limbs.  The lonely dance studio transforms into a lively space when several dancers in brightly colored workout attire emerge and engage in acrobatic duets.  As the piece progresses, the dancing picks up pace and the hip-hop moves for which Rennie Harris is known burst forth.  The piece, overall, lacks cohesiveness, but it is nevertheless an enjoyable jumble.                    

The second piece was “Acceptance in Surrender,” choreographed by a trio of Ailey company dancers (Hope Boykin, Abdur-Rahim Jackson, and Matthew Rushing).  This was the weakest piece of the evening.  The connection between the three male dancers and the lone female, Wendy White Sasser, was unclear.  She folds over and over herself in apparent anguish.  The three male dancers gesture toward her as she shakes and shudders.  At the end of the piece, Sasser falls backwards and is lifted with her arms spread Christ-like.  She has struggled and is saved from something, but what?

Third on the program was “Vespers,” choreographed in 1986 by Ulysses Dove for the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company.  The work begins with a single chair and a woman in a black dress.  She alternately sits primly with her hands on her lap, stands, walks away from the chair on a diagonal, and turns back.  Five more women in black dresses eventually join, and more chairs appear.  Repetitive arm gestures signal the personalities of the women.  They dance with crispness and precision, even in moments of abandon.  Everything is satisfyingly simple – music, costumes, lighting, props, and the movement itself.  This brilliant simplicity highlights the strength of the women. 

The program closed with founder Alvin Ailey’s 1960 masterpiece “Revelations.”  Mr. Ailey drew inspiration for “Revelations” from music many Memphians know well – the blues, spirituals, and gospel.  The piece begins with the “I Been ‘Buked,” which features a chorus of hand gestures, deep pliés, and uplifted chests in a carefully-sculpted triangle.  Another lovely image from the piece is that of the amoeba-like white umbrella that chases its dancer.  It is impossible to discern whether the company’s signature piece flows together seamlessly because it is performed so frequently or  this is simply due to the choreographer’s genius.  The effect is one of pure beauty.    

From joy to grief, the performance of this modern dance powerhouse was full of emotion.  The familiar sounds and spirit of the uplifting finale, however, made this evening of dance in Memphis especially moving.        

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