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What did you think of America’s Best Dance Crew last night?

Though I haven’t written much about it, I have been following the show on and off this season. I think there is some amazing dancing on this show, which really showcases the diversity of hip hop. I love that they had a clogging group and I love that they made it as far as they did. I also love that female groups did as well as they did this season, outnumbering the men 2:1 in the top three.

Ultimately, Fly Khicks, the female group from Miami, was eliminated, leaving the Beat Freaks and Quest Crew (which Mr P thinks sounds like a rather corporate name) heading into the finale. I think this is a good top two. Strikers All-Stars, the step crew from Florida would have also merited a place at the top. Ultimately, it came down to the two groups with the most physical prowess and the most unique flavor.

I just love what the Beat Freaks have done, showing that women can go head to head with men in some of the craziest, most difficult moves such as head spins and threading. They have upper body strength and control that even most men can only dream about.

Quest Crew has some familiar faces– Dominic (or D Tricks as he’s calling himself on this show) and Hok– from So You Think You Can Dance. That gave them a familiarity advantage in the beginning, but they truly belong at the top.

I have no idea who deserves to win. I think that Quest did slightly better last night in terms of leaving their mark than Beat Freaks, but I’m going to have to review videos from the season before I can figure out who deserves to win.

Everyone’s doing it. So I present to you 25 things– not about me– but about Alvin Ailey’s 50th Anniversary performance at the Kennedy Center on February 4. It took me a while to get it up, but I promised I would!

  1. I prefer Ailey as a repertory company. It was educational to see an all-Ailey choreographed program, but there are only so many torso contractions and grande plies in second one can watch in an evening.
  2. It is incredible how Revelations stays fresh after so many performances. Among many highlights, it was the highlight of the evening.
  3. I think one of their secrets is mixing up the dancers’ roles in Revelations each season.
  4. Torso contractions and grande plies in second never feel tired in Revelations.
  5. Revelations’ Wade in the Water is like a hot summer evening and deliciously refreshing on a cold winter night.
  6. If I’m only allowed to see one more thing before I die, it will be Revelations’ Sinner Man. What an amazing explosion of movement. I don’t know of anything that explores the range and ability of the human body while combining musicality and passion that just explode on stage so much as this.
  7. I could have done without the lady on my left’s strong perfume and the sounds and smells of the lady to my right’s munching on peanuts throughout the show.
  8. They packed in a lot of different excerpts of pieces into this program– lots of short excerpts, and the transitions were way too fast. Often, one dancer would be starting in on the next piece while the other was finishing up the previous one. It was too jarring and left no time to absorb what I just saw. If time was the issue, I would have preferred fewer, longer excerpts, with longer pauses in between to allow the audience to catch its breath.
  9. Linda Celeste Sims in The Lark Ascending was some of the most pure, delicious dancing I’ve ever seen. At the end, I realized I’d been holding my breath the whole time.
  10. I have said delicious twice in this list.
  11. I’ll tell you what else is delicious– the entire Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre company. Such beautiful bodies; such beautiful dancers.
  12. I’m glad I went to the gym right before the show. It made me feel just a little bit better about my, er, succulent body.
  13. I’ll tell you wo else was eye candy: Kirven Boyd and Matthew Rushing in Streams.
  14. One of the longer excerpts of the evening was Movement II from Night Creature. It was absolutely delightful.
  15. Night Creature  is all about the party (literally, the piece depicts a nighttime bash) as a whole, each member as part of the party, and how they become one and separate. It ius a corps de ballet piece where each member’s personality and style shine through rather than the cookie cutter corps we typically think of. I don’t think Ailey could do it any other way.
  16. I’m not a fan of pretending to play a musical instrument, particularly when you don’t know how to play the instrument. This, unfortunately, is the premise of A Night in Tunisia from For “Bird” With Love, in which male dancers pretend to be members of a jazz combo in a nightclub.
  17. Fortunately, the “musicians” break free of their miming in short order and dance to the sound the instrument makes in the music.
  18. No dancer better embodied his instrument that Guillermo Asca as the bass player. He danced just the way a bass sounds with a sublime quality of movement. I didn’t even know a bass sound danced that way, but I know now.
  19. Opus McShann— the excerpt was Jumpin’ the Blues— was a straight up swing dance set with lots of shines. It was what numbers at a salsa (or swing) congress could be if they were really good. Not saying that there aren’t really good numbers at a salsa congress, but they are few and far between.
  20. There was some sort of motorcade outside and I got excited hoping it would be a senator or cabinet member (the President was ruled out as the motorcade did not contain an ambulance). Disappointingly, it was no one I recognized. Probably a diplomat with an importance complex.
  21. The audience gave a standing ovation for probably at least ten minutes. They knew if they kept at it long enough they would get an encore, and we did.
  22. After an evening of many many pieces performed to recorded music, I appreciate live music even more. Amazing as the dancing was, something was taken away by the all-recorded soundtrack.
  23. Big thank you to my parents without whose give of a Kennedy Center gift certificate last year would not have gotten me such an amazing close-up seat.
  24. Readers, what do you think of dance review in 25-things format? Or is this just bad?
  25. The end.

One thing that’s frustrated me as I’ve tried to get caught up on several months’ worth of posts from the dance blogosphere (I have not actively followed my feed since, oh, April) is how hard it is to connect with a lot of what’s being written about companies/dancers whose work I’ve never seen. I think this is why I’m starting to reach out a little more locally. It is easier to read and relate to the familiar.

I feel that most reviews and company news is only relevant to those who have seen those works or companies. For example, much is being written about Christopher Wheeldon’s works. I have never seen anything by Wheeldon, so it means little to me. Even when I do get through a [usually particularly well-written, if I make it all the way through,] review, I have little to comment on, other than “interesting post, thanks for sharing!”

I just want to put this topic out there for discussion, that is, if anyone’s still reading my blog since I went MIA in commenting on everyone else’s:

Do you take pleasure in reading a review or news of something you have not seen or a company/choreographer you are not familiar with? If so, why or why not? Certainly the same could go for the work of any type of artist. Do you enjoy reading a review of an exhibition if you are unfamiliar with the artist?

The first session I attended was on Saturday afternoon. Entitled Presenting Ballet Across America, it was a panel of artistic directors of ballet companies and critics. Sitting on the panel were the Washington Ballet‘s artistic director, Septime Webre, and associate director, Jeff Edwards. From the Boston Ballet, artistic director Miko Nissinen. From the Joffrey Ballet, artistic director Ashely Wheater. Critics Jean Battey Lewis of the Washington Times and Theodore Bale from Boston rounded out the panel. The moderator was the NY Post’s Robert Johnson.

Though I am but a baby in the world of balletomanes, even I was able recognize the star power of this panel. Topics discussed were accessibility, outreach and education, programming choices, touring, music, and relationships with critics. On this last topic, I thought it was a nice touch to have critics from the same cities as two of the artistic directors, given their long-standing, if at times adversarial, relationships. I was going to neatly summarize everything, but there were so many nice nuggets of insight and quotes that the below is essentially a cleaned-up version of my notes.

 On accessibility:

 To gain an entry point to dance, audiences need to find something that they can connect with. Some connect with abstract ideas and emotions, while others need more explicit or literal imagery. Dancegoers seem to have shorter attention spans than operagoers. Why is it operagoers will happily sit through a 4 hour opera, but dancegoers squirm in their seats if it’s over an hour? These considerations may be factored in for whether a work will contain an intermission or not.

On the use of popular music to appeal to broader audiences: 

Very few of those pieces have any staying power, because they relied on the strength of the music or the star power of the musician rather than on the strength of the choreography. Tharp’s Sinatra Songs is an exception because it was such a significant contribution to the American jazz canon (it’s been done by 17 companies, and counting). Live music is so important to the art. It’s not financially feasible to have Sting go on tour with you. If we do want to use contemporary music, we need to start seeking out one of the many talented, but lesser known musicians working today.

On TV, video and movies:

This is an exciting time where dancing being #1 on TV for the first time in decades is very exciting. It’s a moment of opportunity. We’re just waiting to see a reality show about ballet! There needs to be better integration of video and dance– the video behind the dancer showing abstractions or cues has been done. An example of innovation was given from the Paris Ballet where video showed activities going on live offstage that vastly contrasted with what the audience saw on stage.

The Company did more harm than good to the Joffrey. It trivialized the company and was a caricature of the artistic director and his process. It would add value to have dance critics write about dance movies and dance on TV, rather than a TV or movie critic that knows nothing about the art. Two exceptions cited were Lewis’ review of Fred Astaire movie reissues, and Bale’s review of The Company

Someone asked why so few video dances apply the classical dance vocabularly (mostly modern and ballroom). Maybe it’s because ballet thinks so rigidly in terms of the rectangular proscenium stage, whereas video benefits from more dynamic facings and shapes. HD technology is a good thing– it allows more of the movement to come through the screen, even on proscenium-filmed video dances.

Would companies ever consider a shift of resources from live to video dance? To do it right, you have to invest millions of dollars in the right equipment, which will become obsolete in just a few years. It’s not financially feasible because it would take too much away from the audiences. What about alternative sources of funding? Forsythe did a DVD the documents his whole process, and it was funded by museums.

On education:

We need to think about how we can better develop talent in the USA. 40% of companies are foreign and 70% of principles are foreign. This says something about the quality of our own training. Other countries have rigid training and curricula in place. We need to look at what sort of standards of quality we should require for teachers and students. Discipline and rigor are lacking, yet we are trying to do too much too early (i.e., 8 yr olds going en pointe). Schools affiliated with companies are money makers so there’s an incentive to keep standards lower, such as holding on to students that are not progressing, to keep getting their tuition.

On diversity:  

 It is difficult to attract African American dancers. They mostly seem to gravitate to historically AA companies such as Ailey. What could companies do to become more representative of the communities they belong to?

There is a trend now to more varied body types. How we talk about shape and weight has changed, and our eyes have changed in terms of how we see bodies.

 On dance criticism:  

Dance critics can do more to inform their audiences and provide context. There is too much “inside baseball,” assuming readers know much more than they do about dance. In terms of how companies see their critics, articles should be constructive and emphasize the singular point of view so that readers understand that it’s coming from just one perspective.

I attended parts of the Dance Critics Association conference this weekend, and am very glad that I did. While I would have liked to attend the whole thing, I had some rehearsal conflicts that I could not get out of. In the end, I attended one workshop on Saturday, and two workshops and a lecture on Sunday.

I’ll get into the individual sessions in subsequent posts (I was originally was going to do one post but it got too long), but the overall benefit of my attendance was meeting other dance writers, both new and established, catching up with friends and acquaintainces, and getting an overall sense of the state of the dance writing profession and the interrelationships between those who dance and manage dance companies, and those who write about them.

I got the sense that dance criticism is at a crossroads. This year has seen many arts critics job losses from traditional newspapers due to budget cuts. The average age is on the older side, and most of these critics quite rightly focused on the art of writing about dance, are not as tech savvy as they need to be to evolve with the changing times. As one critic asked, how can we adapt to new technology, blogging rather than working for a newspaper and still get paid for it? At the end of the conference, that question remained unanswered, but a dialogue had started.

The Dance Critics Association Conference starts this evening and goes through Sunday. Due to my grueling rehearsal schedule I will not be able to attend it in full as I had hoped, but am planning to catch one or two sessions each on Saturday and Sunday. Regrettably one of the ones I will miss is the panel on Dance and New Media, featuring among others Doug Fox of Great Dance.  I also highly regret missing Alastair Macauley’s keynote address.

Coinciding with DCA is the Ballet Across America festival at the Kennedy Center. If you are in DC, you should definitely go to this. It’s a rare opportunity to see some of America’s best ballet companies all in one place. We have tickets to the Saturday night performance featuring the Pacific Northwest Ballet (Jardi Dandicat by Nacho Duato), the Kansas City Ballet (The Still Point by Todd Bolender), and our home team, the Washington Ballet (Tharp’s Sinatra Songs).

Other companies being featured this weekend are Ballet West, Pennsylvania Ballet, Houston Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, and Oregon Ballet Theatre. Suzanne Farrell’s Notes from the Ballet give more insight on some of the works being presented.

You can get tickets here, and if you use promotion code 30503, you’ll get a nice $15 discount on most seats.

 

The title of this post is an age-old philosophical question, but I think it’s good to ask ourselves this question from time to time. Particularly as dance becomes a more common element in mass media, it’s important to think about what we value in dance and in art. Some might argue with even the practice of putting labels on things, but this is a blog about dance, I am passionate about dance, and given that, there are obviously some boundaries in my mind as to what constitutes dance and what does not.

I also ask, is all dance art? And if all dance is art, then how do we classify movement that is not art? What is art?

The source of all this soul-searching was this video that Loren sent me:

Without question, this is an incredible video. According to YouTube, these are the 100 dancers and acrobats of the Great Chinese State Circus; I believe the title for the work would be “Swan Lake on LSD.”

The ballet in this is not bad at all. Very technically proficient, and beautiful lines. I can’t fathom the amount of center and control it takes to dance en pointe on that guys’s head and shoulders while he is walking around. The frogs were very frog-like and very entertaining. But I ask, if all the acrobatics and head pointe dancing were taken out, would this video have had over 3.3 million hits on youtube? More importantly, would it be seen as anything special by dance and art lovers, other than another nice execution of swan lake?

Are acrobatics dance? Are acrobatics art? The following video of the Pilobolus “Dance Company” (I’ve added the quotation marks, more on that later) made me ask those two questions when I first saw it on Ariel’s blog:

For me, this is definitely art– a fantastically creative and sculptural treatment of the human body. But I’m not so sure that it’s dance. To me it falls more into the categories of acrobatics and contortionism.  Yes Pilobolus calls itself a dance company. Is that because it holds that movement + art = dance? Yet take some of the mindless pap you see on shows like Dancing With the Stars…it’s definitely dance, but it sure ain’t art. At least not in my book. Even on the shows I enjoy, such as So You Think You Can Dance, acrobatics are often thrown in the mix in order to pander to attention-deficient viewers who need explosive movements and crazy physical feats to hold their attention. The line between dance and acrobatics is often blurred, as is the line between what I consider art and what I would not consider art, but nonetheless find fun and entertaining.

Ok, I’m four days late, but better late than ever

First things first. By consensus of my readers, the mysterious circle-worshiping necklaces are apparently wireless microphones. It’s a sneaky way to do it and explains why there was some creative accessorizing with scarves this week to try to disguise them. Yes, the viewers have caught on. Seriously, half my traffic this week was driven by folks googling “step it up and dance circle necklace.”

**SPOILER ALERT**

My assessment of Step It Up and Dance‘s episode 4 was summed up by Nick this week, when he said “twenty years of ballet class down the drain.” Read the rest of this entry »

I just read on Dancing Perfectly Free that Deborah Jowitt, dance critic for the Village Voice for the past 40 years, has lost her job.

Jowitt is the critic I most enjoy reading. She is witty, observative of subtlety, and has a lovely way with the English language. One of my first posts on this blog was about her. As I develop in my own dance writing, I’ve been inspired by her very human and accessible approach to criticism, one that says it’s okay to be amused or confused sometimes.

I’m not sure what the Voice’s thinking was here. I know that the economy is tanking and all, but aren’t there other corners they could cut, other than one that brings joy to those of us who are passionate about dance?

There is a little more detail on the firing, as well as a nice tribute to her contributions and importance at Art Scatter.

Also a broader take on the Voice’s woes in general at Gawker. As one commenter points out, “Most Gawker peeps are probably too young to remember when the Voice was actually exciting, at least in terms of its book, film, and music reviews and other cultural stuff.” With the exception of Jowitt’s reviews, I have never been a reader of the Voice, but in the past had always heard of it as being the more cutting-edge, socially, culturally, and artistically relevant publication in New York. I guess now it has just become yet another money-grubbing and uninteresting rag.

Echo Park Contemporary Ballet presented its second program at Dance Place this past Friday. It was an evening of solo works by Shylo Martinez, Oscar Hawkins, Ann Behrends, Rasta Thomas, Cedric Tillman, and Kelly Mayfield, as well as a quartet piece by members of the Bad Boys of Dance.

Martinez smoldered in opening number “Art,” which provided a first glimpse of Tillman’s  characteristic juxtaposition of bursts of energy and explosiveness with slower sections or pauses. And if there was any doubt about Martinez’s flexibility, Hawkins surpassed even that in his self-choreographed “Strange Fruit,” a haunting interpretation of the Billie Holiday song. Aerialist Behrends evoked more than a couple gasps from the audience with “Gravity’s Angel,” combining grace and musicality with stunning dives that stopped just a few inches from the ground. In Tillman’s untitled solo, he showed a vulnerable sensitivity that seemed utterly personal.

The highlights of the evening for me were Thomas’ “Bumblebee” and Mayfield’s “From Within.”  Vladimir Angelov’s choreography was lots of fun and Thomas brought a great deal of panache and springiness to the part. Although perhaps the least acrobatic of the lineup, Mayfield danced “From Within” with beautiful lines and sensitivity– no fancy tricks needed.

The one piece that did little for me was “Maps,” the closing number, and interestingly, the only ensemble piece on the program. Jason Parsons’ choreography was thoughtful and in a way mesmerizing, but something in the execution fell flat for me. Perhaps the dancers need to build greater chemistry or trust.

While presented under the umbrella of Echo Park, the sense of this evening was really the display of individual talents, many of which were tied together by Tillman’s choreography. If the technical ability, personality, and expression of the company members and the entertaining choreography are anything to go on, it will be interesting to see what can be done in more collaborative projects.

I just went to the Dance Critics Association website and found that registration information is up for their annual conference. This year it will take place right here in DC in conjunction with the Kennedy Center’s Ballet Across America program. It is happening June 13-15, which is a weekend.

I certainly don’t consider myself a dance critic, but a local critic who is active in DCA’s leadership suggested that I attend when I asked him about developing my concert reviewing skills. Since it’s happening right in my ‘hood, I think I just might. It seems like a great way to learn more, make some connections, and improve my writing.

Bloggers, if you are planning to attend, please let me know, because I’d like to organize a get together for us, and to welcome you to our great city!

I noticed from the program that former DC-ite Doug Fox of Great Dance is sitting on a panel about dance in new media.

You can register for the DCA conference and get more info here.

There is a great discussion going on in the comments to my response to Sascha Radetsky’s Newsweek article about being a male dancer.

There is an even livelier debate going on about it at the Winger (partially instigated by yours truly 😉 ).

To me, this is not just about dance; it’s about gender and society’s views about gender roles, something that’s particularly in the forefront this election year, and an issue that I don’t think has gone away yet– at all.

I’m disabling comments on this post so you can add your own thoughts to either of the other ones.

Sascha Radetsky wrote an article in Newsweek about the challenges of being a male dancer– the stereotypes, the misunderstandings of what the profession entails, and the social adversity of being one of the few men in a male-dominated profession. I actually think it’s a great article and I’m thrilled when a mainstream publication such as Newsweek devotes attention to dance.

However– and far be it from me to imply that someone’s experience is not authentic, important, or to be taken seriously– I wonder how relevant such a complain is in the world we live in.

Radetsky writes, “…I find myself slightly guarded when I tell people what I do. Like some sort of incurable blight, the male-dancer stereotype has taken root and metastasized in our cultural consciousness.

“In our culture, girls are encouraged to take ballet; boys receive no such endorsement, except of course from ballet teachers or exceptionally supportive parents. The boy who perseveres in dance must have a genuine hunger for it, must be uniquely motivated and dedicated, and must develop a truly thick skin.”

Ok, fair enough, but what about girls who wish to pursue careers in the still male dominated fields of engineering, medicine, business, law, or politics? Their difficulty is not in being respected by their fellow females (though they may face that from their more old fashioned counterparts), but in breaking in to entrenched male centric norms. Many times it’s not even overt discrimination, but a fear of the new. It seems that in dance, it’s not for lack of encouragement by the establishment; if anything, male dancers are in demand and face much less competition than females simply due to numbers.

It is indeed admirable the passion, drive, and disregard of others’ opinions that it takes for males to succeed in dance. However, I’m not seeing so many news stories about women who succeed in typically male-dominated fields, or that wage gaps that still exist between men and women.

I see a disproportionate number of men in leadership positions in female dominated fields. Education, social work, and non-profits overwhelmingly employ women, yet I see many, many directorial and supervisory positions occupied by men. Likewise in dance, I see a disproportionate number of men in leadership positions, as well as choreography and direction.

Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company presented their Annual Winter Show March 1-2 at the GALA Hispanic Theater. The show was an diverse mix of Bharata Natyam, modern dance, physical theater, and a capella singing. It could have come off as too eclectic, but was united by the common themes of Daniel Phoenix Singh and Ludovic Jolivet, who contributed as both dancers and choreographers. I appreciated the unselfconscious global quality of the program. Too often “ethnic” or “world” dances (as we like to call styles that do not originate in the North American or European experience) are relegated to their own special festivals or events. It was refreshing to see Singh move effortlessly between genres, bringing them closer together in the process.

The high point of the evening was a collaboration between Singh and Darla Stanley on Nomadic Still. In pre-concert remarks, Stanley talked about her inspiration for the piece of constant moving in her adult life– a modern nomad. The piece really dug much deeper than that, examining the impact of that life on the relationships within a family and how moves and changes can cause tension, conflict, and alienation before eventually settling in, reconciling, and adjusting to the new life. Singh and Stanley performed the piece with the cherubic Mac Twining (Stanley’s 12-year-old son). The collaboration had initially begun with just Singh and Stanley, but Stanley added her son “because it seemed more like a family.”  A tender (and utterly appropriate) duet between Singh and Twining showed the lengths a parent will go to to protect and nurture a child from scary and uncertain circumstances. For me it was the highlight of the piece, touching in its tenderness.

Theatrical effect and comic relief were provided by Ludovic Jolivet in the form of Roger and Lucie. He was billed in the program as dancing with “Lucie LaFrange,” who turned out to be a yellow mop that when turned on its end, became a very attractive long-haired lady and excellent dance partner. Jolivet played the part of a late-night janitor who ends up becoming enamored with said cleaning implement. He is clearly a master of physical theater. He also choreographed Voy y Vengo, danced by Singh and company members, and employing rolling office chairs for locomotion. It was a little bit poignant, and a little bit silly. It immediately called to mind Anna Brady Nuse’s Chair Dance post (but would beat out all her examples in a heartbeat– watch the videos in that post to see what I’m talking about). Jolivet employed Busby Berkeley-esque symmetrical movement with the effortless and smooth grace of ice skating. Speaking of Busby Berkeley, there is more than a little antique cinema quality to Jolivet’s work. It’s not often you see humor so artfully done in dance, and I hope to see more of this local artist’s work again soon. I found a post on Great Dance that shows some examples of Jolivet’s work.

I felt that the least striking part of the program was Singh’s own choreography. Undercurrents “an overview of subtext” (whatever that means) was difficult to find meaning in, and Against Forgetting, a tribute to peace in collaboration with the a capella group Not What You Think, lagged and failed to strike an emotional chord despite its well-intentioned sentiment. Dakshina’s dancers took the choreography in stride with quiet grace and sensitivity, but I sometimes wondered if they too had a hard time connecting emotionally with Singh’s choreography.

Singh’s dancing, on the other hand (if you will forgive the pun) sang. He posed a strong and sunny figure in Aniruddhan Vasudevan’s Jathiswaram, his part Nomadic Still was beautiful and touching, and graceful and cohesive in Voy y Vengo.

Overall, I really enjoyed this program, for its fine dancing, its many high points, and its (for lack of a better term) cohesive diversity. I have to thank the Washington City Paper for sending me to this show for free– I was actually a winner in the drawing I mentioned a few posts ago.

My year of concert dance exploration and discovery continues. I had the opportunity to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for the first time in person this past weekend. I had seen Revelations on video before, but nothing else from the company’s repertory, and none of the dancers from the current company.

The performance I saw was the final one in a six-day run at the Kennedy Center. Each performance had a different lineup of pieces from the company’s repertory, but all of them included Revelations. While Ailey has premiered some new works this year, such as The Groove to Nobody’s Business, our program was full of classics: Firebird, The Golden Section, Reflections in D, and Revelations. Given that it’s all new to me anyway, I was just excited to see them.

While  I found moments of delight in each piece, The Golden Section and Revelations stood out as the strongest.

My [more knowledgeable than me] companions informed me that Firebird was originally choreographed for classical ballet– en pointe– and the role of the Firebird was originated by the legendary ballerina Maria Tallchief. In Ailey’s take, the dancers are barefoot, and the Firebird is played by two men. Set to the Stravinsky symphony of the same name, Firebird seemed to portray a bleak and grey conformist world where the people– attired in grey pajama like closthes– pin their hopes on the brilliant red Firebird, implying a sort of utopian allegory. Initially represented by a red spotlight, it is replaced by the first of the aforementioned male dancers in a bright red unitard (I’m unfortunately not going to be able to attribute any dancers in this writeup because I’m currently on the road and neglected to bring my program with me). I would describe this dancer as explosive and forceful, bringing fire and incredible athleticism to the role. Towards the end of the piece, the first Firebird collapses/dies and though he remained prone on the stage, he was replaced by a second Firebird. This dancer was in contrast, heartbreakingly liquid, with a sort of infinite quality to his movement. Although his role was brief, these few seconds of dancing were one of the program’s highlights. (damn I wish I had my program!), although the rest of the piece didn’t leave as much of an impact on me.

The Golden Section, with choreography by Twyla Tharp and music by David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) left me grinning. Tharp’s choreography is unrelentingly ebullient and kinetic… nonstop movement and a display of feats of the human body so endless it’s almost humorous– and in a good way. I’ve recently read chatter on the blogs about how certain dance shows on TV are overly portraying incredible athleticism, glistening abs and rippling muscles. Well, let me tell you honey– before there was SYTYCD, there were the Ailey dancers and Twyla Tharp. Clad only in tight little gold hot pants, the men of Ailey certainly had their rippling, glistening abs out there for us to see and there were no complains on my part. The women weren’t bad either, also clad in scant little gold numbers.

But really, I’m not that shallow. Did I mention the dancing? It’s really hard for me to be able to put the piece into words. I think it’s generally hard to describe Tharp. I have no idea what the whole thing meant, but I know that I liked it, that it transmitted a sunny exuberance, joy, and delight through movement, all visual assets and athletic feats aside. I know that the Golden Section is another term for the Divine Proportion, which is a number used in geometry, architecture and engineering, but am not sure how or if that related to the piece. There is also a description of it on Twyla Tharp’s website that provides some insight. It was nonstop motion, with small groups of dancers coming across the stage, sometimes in unison, sometimes dancing with each other in pairs or groups.

I was a little concerned going into Revelations because I knew it had been on the program every single day and we were attending the final performance of Ailey’s DC engagement. Happily, Revelations felt like one of the freshest things on the program. It is easy to understand why it is such an important part of the Ailey repertoire and of American dance in general. Having seen the video version several times also underscores for me the importance of seeing important works live. It’s a different experience in which I can connect on a more personal level with the piece. The audience loved it, too and rewarded the dancers with an extended standing ovation.

Absolute highlights for me were the gorgeous, sensitively danced duet in Fix Me, Jesus and the darkly infectious Sinner Man. I also loved the quality of movement of the women crossing over the water in Wade In the Water. The hip motion is wonderfully evocative of afro-caribbean dance.

I have heard some criticisms from others who saw this season of Ailey that the company is not as strong as in the past and that they were left underwhelmed. I will say that intellectually I felt that I should have been wowed by Firebird but aside from one brief solo was left feeling ambivalent about it. Although The Golden Section did awe me, I did see that there were a couple parts that could have been better rehearsed, with better unison in places where it seemed that should be happening, and a little cleaner. However, this being my first time seeing Ailey live, I have no past basis for comparison, andI think it should be clear from this writeup that despite any reservations I may have had, I left the concert feeling really happy that I had gone and feeling that I can’t wait to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater again soon.

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After the jump, videos of some of the pieces I referenced in this writeup.

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