Ailey II

March 30, 2000

Ailey II

Aaron Davies Hall
New York, New York

March 30?April 2, 2000

Reviewed by Roslyn Sulcas

To celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary, Ailey II (founded in 1974 as the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble) presented an ambitious seventeen-work program over a four-day season that opened with a heartfelt tribute from Judith Jamison to Sylvia Waters, who has been director of the group since its inception.

The opening night focused on Alvin Ailey?s choreographic work, with Isba (1983), Reflections in D (1962) and?most interesting?a revival of the 1968 Quintet that preceded a new work, Sensory Feast, by Francesca Harper.

The three Ailey pieces showed different aspects of the choreographer?s craft. In ISBA, set to a piano score by George Winston, dancers in glowing pinks and blues fill the stage with swirling motion, their flattened hands and fluidly undulating bodies juxtaposing the exotic with the balletic underpinnings of the dance. Beautifully structured (entrances and exits possess such grace), the work moves from ensemble to solos and pas de deux, then back to a tableau ending in which the dancers radiate outward like the spokes of a wheel, echoing the mandala symbol projected on the backdrop at the beginning.

Reflections in D,
a male solo to music by Duke Ellington, is a performer?s vehicle?a yearning, emotional outpouring through dance originally made for the great Ailey dancer Dudley Williams. Well danced by Nelson Cabassa, it was, perhaps inevitably, less fully inhabited on an emotional level by this younger performer.

The superb Quintet presents five women in tight red satin dresses and blonde wigs, lip-synching and shimmying to vocal music by Laura Nyro that recalls the Motown era of glamorous female singers. First moving in unison, the dancers separate off one by one for impassioned solos that show the private faces of pain and despair behind the glossy facade: arms reach out, clutch around the waist; bodies crumple to the floor, occasionally to resurrect with new hopes and desires. Wonderful performances from Lanette Costas, Rosalyn Sanders, Yuka Fukuda (particularly compelling), Tina Williams and Odara Jabali-Nash did honor to this important restaging by Waters, Linda Kent, Michelle Murray and Renee Rose Thorpes.

The New York premiere of Sensory Feast by Harper, a former Ailey II member who went on to become a signature performer with William Forsythe?s Frankfurt Ballet, gave the company an opportunity to work in a less familiar style. Dressed in bronze-black leather shorts and brief tops, eight dancers move in dusky light to the electronic clicks and hums of a score by Rolf Ellmer. Harper makes detailed use of the upper body, circling arms, twitching fingers, rippling the torso, and interspersing stillness with lashing, disjointed impulse. Sensory Feast doesn?t feel like a new choreographer?s work?it?s skillfully constructed, full of interesting moments, and clearly challenges the dancers to both think and dance differently. But its polish is also, perhaps, its problem: It is impressive, yet somehow prevents us from a deeper incursion into the emotional heart of the piece.