Walter’s World: Ailey II at the Joyce

March 3, 2010

By Walter Rutledge

The 1,2,3 Festival at the Joyce Theatre presented three dance companies over twelve days. Ailey II, Taylor 2 and ABT II took to the stage on alternating days, and on the weekends splitting matinee and evening performances (a testament to the professionalism of the Joyce Theatre staff and crew). Following a shared evening by all three companies on April 13th (the opening night of the festival), Ailey II presented their first solo evening on April 14th.

The program opened with Thang Dao’s Echoes. The work is loosely based on the choreographer’s memories of his journey from his native Vietnam to America. Set to the music of Enzio Bosso, “Io Non Ho Paura”, the work featured the entire twelve-member ensemble.

Echoes is a strong work filled with imagery. It is a study in quiet strength and has a subtle, understated beauty. Throughout Echoes the entire group lifts both male and female dancers, creating a “dance collective” void of overt gender roles.

Mr. Dao has the ability to move large groups without predictability or convention. He was able to build ensemble movement passages in a fluid manner; at times it was almost hypnotic. Dancers entered the stage, developing a large group dynamic in a deliberate yet unobtrusive way, this process never detracting from to the primary stage focus.

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The solo performed by South Korean born dancer Chang Yong Sung was the centerpiece of the work. The choreography was demanding and awe-inspiring but did not exhaust the audience. Mr. Sung’s confident and dignified approach to the movement distinguished him as a true modern dance disciple.

Christopher Huggins offered a female solo entitled Essence. In many respect the work is an introspective trial by ordeal. On a dark stage a solo dancer, Ghrai DeVore, appears seated on a chair in a circle of light. Confined to this circle of light, most of the movement takes place on the stationary chair.

The stark stage provided the audience with only one focal point, Ms. DeVore. The choreographic intent requires the performer to have a great deal of emotional stamina. Ms. Ghrai was definitely prepared for the challenge.

The work was engrossing and revealing. It was similar to seeing a photograph of a beautiful woman that had purposely not been retouched. We were aware of her honesty, and at the same time we admired her for refusing to hide her imperfections.

In the Q&A session with Ailey II Artistic Director Sylvia Waters and members of Ailey II immediately following the performance, Ms. Waters shared with the audience that the ballet and costume had been a gift to the company by Mr. Huggins. A former member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, both Ailey II and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre have presented Mr. Huggins works. When Ms. Waters acknowledge Mr. Huggins gift he responded from the audience saying “ I gave it to you”.

Proximity was a quartet set for two men and two women. Choreographer Carlos dos Santos explores the interaction of people living and working in closing “proximity” to one another. These intimate relationships oft-times remain distant as defined by the very nature of city life.

The work presented dance scenarios and established loosely defined characters. There was a generous amount of male/ female interplay and one-upsmanship. The interplay was often playful in nature.

Proximity especially highlighted the talents of the male dancers. Jarvis McKinley’s buoyant jumps, pliant legs and strong partnering made him a standout throughout. Levi Marsman’s fearless approach to the Horton based floor work was impressive. Mr. Marsman personable and comic stage demeanor also established him as the antagonist in the work.

The music by composers Tania Leon and Paul Lansky was an interesting blend of opposites. Ms. Leon, a founding member and the first Music Director for the Dance Theatre of Harlem, presented a composition entitled Satine; which was strong, and well suited for dance. Mr. Lansky’s contribution entitled The Sounds of Two Hands was a rhythmic work consisting only of hands clapping that at times resembled the sound of heels tapping.

The program closed with Divining by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre Artistic Director Judith Jamison. The entire ensemble danced the work, choreographed in three sections entitled Seeking, Resting and Moving On. Every member of the company was exceptional.

It is hard to believe this work is twenty-six years old. The spirit and energy give it a timeless quality. This could very easily have been set in a long ago, far away place- in the future.

The music by Kimati Dinizulu and Monti Ellison is distinctly tribal, yet eclectic. The lighting by Timothy Hunter (originally designed for the Jamison Project prior to entering the Ailey repertoire) helped to create a rich atmospheric night world. While the costumes designed by Andy Kay (also for the Jamison Project) were mere suggestions, leaving the lines, shapes and physiques unobstructed.

It would be remiss not to mention the powerful performance of Ghrai DeVore. As the “leader” figure she commanded the stage. In the solo section Resting Ms. DeVore displayed control and authority.

Originally named the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble the company was formed in 1974 by choreographer and dance innovator Alvin Ailey. He personally appointed Sylvia Waters, a company member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, as Artistic Director of the new ensemble. For over thirty-five years Ms. Waters has shaped and nurtured the company and the lives of countless young aspiring dancers.

During the on stage Q & A it was evident that the experience of being an Ailey II dancers extended beyond mere rehearsals and performances. This was “old school”; the grooming of an artist, preparing the entire being for the demands and rigors of a performing arts career, and clearly leading by example.

In addition to appearing in twenty-five cities during the 2009-10 touring season the company regularly performs at colleges and universities and visits elementary, middle and high school across the country. The company has performed choreography of dance masters; Alvin Ailey, Talley Beatty, Ulysses Dove, George Faison and Judith Jamison, and innovative and emerging choreographers Francesca Harper, Troy Powell, Robert Battle, and Shen Wei. Ailey II is the part of the living legacy of Alvin Ailey, who believed everyone should be given the opportunity to experience the joy of dance.

Photo Credits: 1) Judith Jamison’s Divining 2)Thang Dao’s Echoes 3)Echoes with Chang Yong Sung 4)Christopher Huggins’ Essence with Demetia Hopkins 5)Carlos dos Santos’ Proximity 6)Proximity 7)Divining 8)Ghrai DeVore in Divining

Photos by Eduardo Patino

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