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Alvin Ailey Dance American Dance Theater

by Steve Weinstein
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Dec 23, 2011

The problem for a critic seeing a performance of the Alvin Ailey is that it spoils it for any other dance company. They're just so damned good. This season, three premiers highlight a legendary troupe at the very top of its game.

Minus 16

With those fedoras and black suits over T-shirts, I half expected this to be a tribute to Michael Jackson. But no, this turned out to be something much bigger (and better) than a salute to the Gloved One.

"Minus 16" is a longish piece that manages never to bore. Not one second. Israeli Ohad Naharin has created a chameleon that incorporates everything from an Israeli folk song to (sadly under-appreciated) Rat Packer Dean Martin. The dancers begin with a chair dance -- that is, they’re all in chairs, a gimmick that would have had Fred Astaire approving. They do various things people in chairs do, including a high-toned version of ballclub standard The Wave.

Then the chairs -- along with a lot of the clothes -- are flung aside, and the dance goes into as many international variations as the World Music score. What really sets it apart, however, is the audience participation.

People are taken onstage and dance with members of the company. Someone had warned me in advance about this, and I was shrinking in my seat. However, after I saw how much fun every person was having, I was envious. I can’t speak for other performances, but everyone was damned good, including a very senior citizen and a trim middle-aged straight white man who proved that indeed, some of them could keep a beat in the booty quite nicely.

Arden Court

This time, the company went to that other acknowledged male titan of modern choreography with an eponymous troupe, Paul Taylor.

Although British composer William Boyce worked during the Georgian era, I kept thinking that somehow the work was referencing the Tudors, especially Henry VIII, probably extrapolating from the title, which sounds so much like that late-Renaissance court.

What I do know is that six beefy, shirtless men in gorgeous flowered leotard prints that, shall we say, accentuate the positive, do some amazing things on stage, occasionally partnering with women.

The men make human windmills. They soar. They make music with their legs. It’s all an extraordinary celebration of the ways in which men inform classical and modern dance, and it’s totally wonderful.


"Home" has garnered for itself a micro-controversy because it is a piece inspired by a program called "Fight HIV Your Way" sponsored by Bristol-Meyer Squibb. I, for one, can never understand how people can be so naive as to think that some money is tainted and other money is pure. Balzac said every great fortune begins with a crime. Where do people think the funding for non-profits comes from?

Anyway, this tempest in a dollhouse teapot didn’t cut into my -- or the audience’s -- appreciation for this electrifying piece.

Admittedly, other than a couple of "street"-type voiceovers, I didn’t really get the connection between living with HIV and the dancing. But it didn’t matter, and it probably shouldn’t. Great dance at its core is abstract. Even the story ballets only use a core "libretto" for all the set pieces.

"Home" beautifully incorporates popular, contemporary recreational dancing, especially break dancing and voguing, and samples of much older cultural elements, including the Cakewalk and Funk.

I first became aware of choreographer Rennie Harris at the Fire Island Dance Festival in the Pines this past summer, where his two-man ethnic gay smack down brought down the house. Harris stacked the deck in his favor by getting Dennis Ferrer and Raphael Xavier to compose the score, which is a House-inflected composite of dance-music styles, especially Morning Music. I’m dying to get DJ Susan Morabito a tape of this for her warm-up or wind-down sets -- she’s a sucker for this groovy, House, soul-inflected waviness.

The dancing is equally moody. It swings from upbeat to despair. What never varies is the articulate styling of the movement, which perfectly blends those popular idioms with classical form. It’s a real joy to see such professional dancers do a "talk to the hand" and head roll.

Alvin Ailey runs through Jan. 1, 2012 only at the City Center, 131 W. 55th St., between Sixth and Seventh avenues. Call 212-581-1212 or go to the City Center website for tickets.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).


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