The most adventurous and substantial work added to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theaters repertory this season is its oldest Garth Fagans 1978 piece From Before. Seen on Friday night, in the second of the troupes five shows at the Adrienne Arsht Center, From Before proved to be a fascinating whirl of a dance. With none of the obvious virtuosity or drama that marks much of the Ailey repertoire, it is a daring and welcome addition.
Ailey artistic director Robert Battle has said that this dance reminded him of the pure movement abstractions of the revolutionary post-modernist Merce Cunningham. The Jamaican-born Fagan is best known for choreographing The Lion King, but he is also a major, pioneering modern dance artist based in the small city of Rochester in upstate New York. The Ailey debut is the first time a troupe other than Fagans own has done From Before, which will help bring this master choreographer to a much wider audience.
The sixteen dancers in eye-poppingly bright-colored unitards unfurled across the stage of the Ziff Ballet Opera House to a burbling Afrobeat modern score by Ralph MacDonald. There are African and Caribbean influences in their pulsing chests and bent kneed walks, but those elements are so abstracted and merged into the choreography that we see them as pure movement but so unlike other styles of modern dance as to make From Before startlingly vivid. The Ailey dancers do all this with tick-tock precision. At one point Marcus Jarrell Willis advances downstage, his pelvis working in a sharply articulated circle in the middle of his wide-squatting legs an abstracted version of a booty-pulsing move thats become a dance floor staple. Towering Jamar Roberts, looking eye-poppingly muscular in bright purple, stalks the stage like a sci-fi warrior. As the dancers spiral into a whirling circle, they seem engaged in some pure and powerful movement ritual.
Battles 1998 duet Strange Humors features elements familiar from his other pieces in the Ailey repertoire: a percussion-driven score (by John Mackey); fast, often contorted movement; and a sense of agonized conflict with oneself. Renaldo Gardner and Michael Francis McBride seem like clashing but tightly linked lovers or brothers, or even two sides of the same person, moving with tandem slashing limbs and startling falls, repetitively striking or grabbing at each other. Humors, like the solo In/Side on Aileys other Miami program, is intense and impactful. But it would be nice to see something from Battle that moves beyond these now familiar themes.
The post-modern antics of Minus 16, by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, arent new to the dancers or Miami audiences after its Ailey debut last year. But both enjoy the piece immensely particularly the segment where the 20 Ailey dancers walk into the audience to select a few lucky partners to mock and adore, to boogie and cha-cha onstage with them. The amateur enthusiasm from the regular folks is even more entertaining than the dancers virtuoso loopiness. Friday nights audience adored it.
Revelations was more energetic and natural than in Thursdays performance. The wonderful veteran Matthew Rushing, now billed as a guest artist, was its warm and passionate center. In the Sinner Man solo, he showed us longing and fervor, not technique; and warm exuberance in the finale.
Fridays program repeats on Saturday night; Thursdays program will be performed on Saturdays and Sundays matinee.