Spoleto 2009 » Dance

The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater is perfection

The dancers of the 50-year-old company turn themselves inside out on the Gaillard stage

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Saturday night's performance of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater began with a film tribute to the company's 50th year anniversary, honoring the man who made the magic possible, Mr. Alvin Ailey himself. In the film, Ailey, who died in 1989, says, "I'm a black man whose roots are in the sun and in the dirt of the earth."

It's heartbreakingly evident once the current company begins to perform that they live and dance by the same principle. They are a force to be reckoned with. Men with rippling muscles and energy shooting out if their fingertips dance alongside women harnessing the fiery power of their hearts, minds, and souls. Sass is not the word for the women of the Alvin Ailey dance company. Feisty is a nice try. They are fierce.

They should call it the Alvin Ailey Experience for its ability to transcend time and stand time still. Ailey understood the magic and influence of the theater and mastered the art of infusing it with his history. His dancers still reveal beauty, misery, pain, and hope — true to his vision.

One minute into the first number, "Good Morning Blues," the company displays its marvelous ability to perform as a cohesive unit, while simultaneously retaining colorful and distinct personalities. I was tickled by spot-on characters acting with each other and reacting to one another. There is so much to watch — frantically waving fans and umbrellas abound — and every movement made counts for something. Wrist-rolls are given the same consideration as triple turns.

In the second act, comprised of timeless Otis Redding songs, a sea of pink skirts floods the stage. A woman dressed in black brandishes a purple bouquet as the pink skirts seemingly sing around her as she raises hell. Dancers seamlessly morph gorgeous high kicks into double turns into smooth shoulder shrugs as naturally as if they were walking. The last song of this section, "Try a Little Tenderness," left me teary as a couple captured the push and pull of love to perfection.

The final act, "Revelations," Ailey's most famous piece, created in the 1960s, sheds light on the agonizing struggle of the African-American people and their hopes, using songs both soulful and religious. Every moment is a picture. The partner work is mesmerizing. During the pas de deux "Fix Me Jesus," Linda and Glen Allen Sims dance on air — literally. There were moments when I saw not how Ms. Sims was being lifted and shifted. She held a high front arabesque (her leg was nearly at 180 degrees) and slowly rotated 360. The audience burst into frantic applause. Alvin Ailey Dance Theater seriously raised the bar.

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