by John Stoehr
Consider for a moment that it started in 1958, six years before the Civil Rights Act. This isn't just any anniversary for a company whose premise was celebrating the African-American experience. It's truly a milestone.
So it was with patience that we sat through a brief video tribute that covered familiar ground.
Ailey grew up in the South, moved out West with his mother, was introduced to dance in Los Angeles, founded his company in New York, scouted the best black talent America had to offer, established a mix of artistic and popular dance, then left it all the Judith Jamison before he died in 1989.
Salient fact No. 1: 5,000 people showed up for his funeral.
The program was a hit parade of Ailey's choreography. Overviews like this don't come around often. Seeing this one brought to mind Ailey's greatest strength, in my view — exploiting for profound and often comic effect the battle of the sexes.
In one such scene, Renee Robinson, the longest performing dancer in the company's history, wore a red outfit — red tights, shoes, and gown. She was radiant against the muted green backdrop. Glenn Allen Sims was her beau. His ascot complemented her tights. You didn't need to know the details; you knew what was going on. Why? Because you've been there yourself. Or you've witnessed others being there.
The final phrase was pure Ailey. After much teasing, cajoling, retreating, and wounding, Robinson climbed a ladder. A really tall one set in the back corner of the stage. In a move that signaled the couple's reconciliation, she elegantly drops down in the waiting arms of her man and the two of them walk off, their bond reaffirmed. Her precision movement, the way it fit into the larger story, the way he caught her without giving the impression that she had any weight to her at all — it was gorgeous. -JS