Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

December 2, 2009

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
New York City Center

December 2, 2009–

January 3, 2010
Reviewed by Susan Yung

Yusha-Marie Sorzano and Linda Celeste Sims in Matthew Rushing’s
Uptown. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy AAADT.


Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater celebrated its 50th anniversary recently, and Judith Jamison is completing 20 years as its artistic director, in her last year on the job. The City Center season celebrated her tenure with compilation programs of works and excerpts that she has brought to the company. While her own new work was a mixed-result effort, premieres by Ronald K. Brown and longtime dancer and prodigy Matthew Rushing reflected a bright future for the company.

Curating the Ailey company’s season is, in and of itself, a peculiar art, with Alvin Ailey’s work contrasting ever more sharply with new commissions. So there is a certain logic to AAADT’s compilation programs, which, like a slide show, display the breadth of several choreographers’ work. But there is also the sense of impatience in the programming, like channel surfing—the next best thing is to come. Jamison has been responsible for acquiring solid dances like Elisa Monte’s Treading, Ron Brown’s Grace, and Love Stories, to which she contributed with Robert Battle and Rennie Harris. But like much of the company’s repertory, many of the dances feel dated, either by their formal jazz technique (that more closely resembles ballet in structure than contemporary modern forms), neon spandex, or easy listening–style jazz.


An exception was Ron Brown’s premiere, Dancing Spirit, a heartfelt and profound tribute to Jamison titled after her autobiography of the same name. The nine dancers, with company sages Renee Robinson and Matthew Rushing as guiding spirits, begin with an accumulating, diagonal phrase of basic steps that repeat to a spacious xylophone melody. Brown adds a lyrical sequence that bisects it, frames the stage perimeter with some sharply punctuated chains, gives Robinson a juicy solo to an intriguing Radiohead instrumental, and then lets out all the stops in his signature style—an athletic blend of African, modern, and ballet. Brown shows that in order to wow the viewers, it’s not necessary to barrage them with gymnastic tricks. In particular, Rushing—who often holds his emotions close—glowed from the inside out in the final section.


Rushing, an 18-year company veteran, moved behind the scenes to create Uptown, a celebration of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. The charismatic Abdur-Rahim Jackson emceed this episodic dance structured like a documentary, with slides and text fleshing out the choreographic offerings. While the work at times veered toward the didactic, its varying dynamics and set changes made for an enlightening journey. Rushing’s personal strengths as a dancer came across in his richly detailed and fluid phrases that show his promise as a choreographer.


Among Us (Private Spaces: Public Places)
, by Jamison, featured her own artwork—naif portraits in bold colors—in a gallery setting that felt both public and private. But the dance, to an original score by ELEW, suffered from too many elements vying for attention. Clifton Brown was a genie conjuring different characters who passed by the artwork intentionally or incidentally: couples arguing or making up, strangers whose paths cross, a man fighting stubborn demons, construction workers taking a break.

Jamison’s fondness for Clifton Brown’s seemingly limitless palette of physical expression came across, despite his powder blue costumes (although a two-foot long feather atop his head did magically extend his delicate wiggling movement). But the choppy choreography at times felt like a series of poses with little connecting them. Paul Tazewell’s costumes were unflattering and restricting, except for Jamar Roberts’ fitted navy suit with silkscreened imagery. Al Crawford’s sometimes ill-aimed lighting did little to enhance the dance. A highlight was elegant rehearsal director Ronni Favors’ cameo; she blended seamlessly with her younger charges.

AAADT’s repertory is always going to be a work in progress, but this year’s contributions by Ron Brown and Rushing offered hope for the future amid an appropriately festive send-off for Jamison.