|Linda Celeste Sims performing in Twyla Tharp's "The Golden Section." (paul kolnik)|
A night of athleticism and beauty
Without a formal company of her own these days, the iconic choreographer Twyla Tharp relies on a variety of repertory companies to keep some of her best works alive. So the opportunity to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's take on "The Golden Section" -- the finale of "The Catherine Wheel," Tharp's landmark evening-length collaboration with David Byrne -- came with great anticipation.
The Thursday night opening of the troupe's annual
Surprisingly, however, it's a bit of a stretch for the Ailey dancers stylistically. Don't get me wrong -- they clearly have the chops to pull it off. The Ailey dancers are known for their virtuosic technique, explosive movement, and limber physiques, with loose-jointed extensions that scrape the ceiling. They nail the blistering spins, the jump turns that corkscrew mid air, the leaps that seem to sail on a breeze. It's a polished, spirited performance.
But ultimately, it's just a little too muscular, a little too pressed at times. I miss the casual ease with which Tharp plays moves of breathtaking, daredevil defiance (like when the women pitch themselves headlong into their partners' arms) against carefree shimmies and jaunty slides tossed off with well-oiled insouciance. In the Ailey company's performance, heads didn't swivel and roll with quite enough of Tharp's trademark attitude -- it's a kind of sassy nonchalance laced with just a hint of look-at-me arrogance. The exquisite Clifton Brown got it just right, but for most of the Ailey troupe, it may be a matter of training, or hopefully just a matter of time.
The Tharp piece was framed by two Ailey classics, and those the troupe seemed born to dance. The late choreographer's 1970 "The River" was the crowd-pleasing opener. The half-hour work for 26 dancers is set to an original score by Duke Ellington, and it represents the jazz titan at his most lushly romantic, with swirling strings, unabashed lyricism, and the occasional modal exoticism. As the title suggests, there is a fair amount of watery imagery, such as the wave-like ebb and flow of the ensemble in the opening section and the liquid sways of a circle of dancers in the gorgeous "Lake." And some of the partnered lifts were vividly sculptural. But overall, the work doesn't hang together. The tone is all over the map, from pretty ballet-inspired group dances to a jive-steppin' solo by Guillermo Asca . The most compelling section is a duet between Brown and Renee Robinson. Each dances a yearning solo of reaching and contracting while caught in a pool of light. Gradually they transcend the darkness in between, connecting in a tender, lyrical pas de deux.
True to form, the evening's rousing finale was Ailey's "Revelations." Set to spirituals, it is one of the most beloved masterworks in modern dance. While some in the audience might have preferred to see something new, many clearly treasure this Ailey tradition; every time the Celebrity Series has omitted it opening night, it's gotten an earful from the fans. So be it.