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Juilliard Dance

Published: December 11, 2012
Category: review

When Leaps and Bounds Are Not Enough

By Rachel Straus

NEW YORK — The premiere of Another Night on Dec. 5 for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater signaled another big career stride for 35-year-old choreographer Kyle Abraham [MusicalAmerica.com’s New Artist of the Month in June, 2010]. Since his solo Inventing Pookie Jenkins was selected to be part of the New York City Center’s 2007 Fall for Dance Festival, Abraham has been racking up the dance world’s most coveted awards, fellowships, and commissions.

Investigating gay, black, and urban themes has become Abraham’s choreographic raison d’être. And so expectations ran high for the New York-based choreographer’s first commission from the most prestigious and visible African-American dance company in the U.S.

Yet Another Night, which is part of the Ailey company’s four and half-week annual City Center season, possessed little of Abraham’s lauded grit and topicality. Unlike Pavement, which premiered a month ago at Harlem Stages, Another Night explored neither race, aggression, nor a particular era. And unlike Pavement, which was loosely based on 1990s gang warfare and was performed by his well-rehearsed pick-up company, Another Night looked more sketched than choreographically developed or technically polished. Perhaps this had something to do with logistics. The work was made in two weeks and then shelved while the Ailey company recently toured Israel.

Nevertheless, Another Night neatly fit into the current Ailey commissioning tradition, which asks (or implicitly asks) choreographers to make works that highlight the Ailey dancers’ miraculous physicality and their high-spirited approach to dancing. Another Night has both, employing Abraham’s signature moves: bent-knee leg jumps that pop up from the floor, complex, angular isolation of limbs, and swirling full-bodied phrases that appear to possess a relaxed execution.

Yet Abraham’s id seems to have been at work when he titled his dance Another Night. Yes, the dance title refers to his chosen music, A Night in Tunisia (1942) by Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli as recorded by Art Blakely & The Jazz Messengers (1960). But it also intimates the business of making yet another dance, for yet another night of theater.

The approximately 15-minute work for four women and six men opened with Jacqueline Green under a spotlight, surrounded by blue floodlights (thanks to Abraham lighting designer Dan Scully). Green, in a sapphire blue dress (costumes by Naoko Nagata), rolled her shoulder forward, which caused her arm to trace a rainbow-like arc. A very similar arm gesture, also done in silence, appeared at the beginning of Pavement, but when performed by Abraham himself, it embodied a spirit of strange, sad, hopefulness. Here it looked like a nonchalant preamble. Another moment from Pavement involved a male dancer walking on stage chomping chips. The comedic segment fit with the setting of Pavement: a basketball court in an urban landscape, where the dancers prowled and played. In Another Night, the huge bag of chips that the Ailey dancer carried on stage looked like a product placement.

Because the chips didn’t have a thing to do with Gillespie’s Tunisia, it begged thequestion of where the piece was supposed to have been set. Abraham’s vagueness toward place was further magnified by the work’s overall ambiguity. There were sections featuring pure dance (often done in unison) and others featuring vernacular dancing (that looked improvised). In the latter, the dancers jived, strutted, and break-danced like they were in an after-hours club. However, one segment never connected to the next. The dancers’ relationships to each other were also unclear. A duet for Jamar Roberts and Jacqueline Green did, momentarily, promise something personal. Green strutted in invisible heels in front of a mesmerized Roberts. Then she broke into a street dance and Roberts joined her. Their stationary flirting was quirky and cute, but their subsequent leaping phrase, done apart from each other, merely showcased their beautiful elevation. It had nothing to do with the notion that they had bonded.

Another Night ended as it began, with Green performing the rainbow-arc arm gesture, a leg kick back, and a full-body swirl. Then she walked toward the back of the ever-darkening stage with a nonchalance that spoke of another night lived physically but not memorably.

The evening began with Alvin Ailey’s Memoria (1979). Created in homage to Joyce Trisler, a woman who danced in Ailey’s first company, founded her own modern dance troupe, and died too young (age 45). Performing the Trisler role was veteran Ailey dancer Linda Celeste Sims, who delivered Trisler’s tripartite personality: sassy lady, spiritual goddess, and the mother to a multiplicity of dancers. They came in the second half of the ballet in the form 27 Ailey School students, costumed first in nude unitards and briefs and then in candy color tights and T-shirts. The campy elegiac tone of Keith Jarrett’s Runes matched Ailey’s repetitive choreography of multiple arabesques–about one every eight counts. Memoria is no masterpiece, but it fits neatly into the heroically danced and spiritually driven Ailey repertory, which this year is under the mantle of the new artistic director, Robert Battle.

Also on the program was Camille A. Brown’s The Evolution of a Secured Feminine (2007). Rachael McLaren boldly realized this witty female character study — set to songs recorded by jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter, and Nancy Wilson —  about dealing, among other things, with one’s man. The evening ended with the company’s signature work Revelations (1960), in which Renee Robinson rocked the house. The only current company dancer handpicked by the late Alvin Ailey, Robinson never dances just the steps. She dances conflict and control, joy and exasperation. She doesn’t have the new Ailey dancers’ ballet-lithe physicality. She’s got something much better: charisma and character.

Musical America Worldwide


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