The second program of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Miami run, on Friday at the Adrienne Arsht Center, didn’t reach the very high level of Thursday’s opening show (the program repeats Sunday afternoon.) But it still showcased the range and spectacular gifts of these dancers, and, perhaps, pointed towards what seems to be the company’s character and strengths right now.
The opener, Exodus, by Rennie Harris, harnessed the expansiveness, fluidity and emotional intensity that are among the troupe’s best qualities. Harris is usually called a hiphop choreographer, but in this work (and others he’s done for the Ailey company) he has more in common with Ronald K. Brown’s blend of contemporary, club and African moves than with competition break dance style gymnastics. Set to pulsing house music, the movement in Exodus is smooth, loose-limbed, mostly upright, switching from slow motion to pops of jerking speed. Exodus was inspired by the police shootings of black men that have been in the news, and travels from agony to anger to defiance. The title implies many things: the disappearance of black men from life, a journey towards salvation, flight from unbearable oppression.
It opens with most of the 16 dancers prone on the floor of the darkened stage, with Hope Boykin seated mourning over Matthew Rushing, another victim on an urban battlefield. A bare-chested Jamar Roberts strides slowly over the bodies to lift her up, and the dancers rise, their upraised hands, chests and hips vibrating, as if with uncontrollable tension and rage. As the dance proceeds, the dancers switch from street gear to white pants and tunics (costumes are by Jon Taylor), and the atmosphere shifts from gathering anger to ritual, with Roberts moving through them, solitary, his eyes fixed on a distant point. At the end, the dancers mass behind Rushing, the sound of a shot rings out, and he collapses, to be lifted up again by Roberts. There’s intense anger in Exodus, but at the end, defiance as well. The audience responded powerfully, rising to their feet to applaud.
Paul Taylor’s dances, with their sculptural physicality and their humane theatricality would seem well suited to the Ailey dancers, and they fit with artistic director Robert Battle mission to keep the company connected to modern dance’s legacy. Yet the troupe hasn’t clicked with them yet. The 12 dancers certainly looked handsome in Taylor’s Piazzolla Caldera, set to the marvelous tango music of Astor Piazzolla, wearing Santo Loquasto’s flowered dresses over garters and stockings for the women, suit pants and open vests for the men. But they missed the taut energy, the sharp, flicking rhythm, the sense of tension in the music and between bodies that give this dance its physical excitement and emotional drama, its sense of thwarted longing. In Taylor’s Arden Court, which the troupe first did in 2011, they looked tense. Here they were too loose. The normally commanding Linda Celeste Sims, as a yearning woman left out of the whirl of the dance, had plenty of sexual heat, but lacked emotional dimension. A male duet, performed by Daniel Harder and Michael Francis McBride, which should be rife with sexual tension, instead came off as comic. The most compelling couple was Roberts and Rachael McLaren.
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It was interesting to see contemporary ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s haunting After the Rain Pas de Deux done by Roberts and Akua Noni Parker. Certainly they’re extraordinarily accomplished artists, although they don’t have the sharp line, slimness, extension and ethereal lightness of classical dancers. But Roberts and Parker bring other qualities to After the Rain; a fullness, a lush, deliberate muscularity, and a tender deliberation that can be very moving.
Given that the Ailey company has been performing their beloved gospel dance Revelations for over 50 years, and the current dancers perform it multiple times a year, it’s something of a miracle that it stays fresh. The steps, though they can be very challenging, are often quite simple. But each dancer, each time, is completely absorbed. During the jubilant finale, it’d be easy for them to go on auto-pilot. But each one is a little bit different, the men tilting their heads and smiling at the finger-shaking, fanning women, their expressions changing, responding to each other. You may not see those details from far away. But you feel them, each one of them, dancing.
If you go
What: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
When: 8 p.m. Saturday (Exodus, No Longer Silent, Revelations)
2 p.m. Sunday (Open Door, Awakening, Case of You, Revelations)
Where: Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
Info: $25 to $120, arshtcenter.org or 305-949-6722