Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Ronald K. Brown's "Grace," Jawole Willa Jo Zollar's "Shelter," and Billy Wilson's "The Winter in Lisbon"

City Center, New York City, NY

December 15, 2002
By Kate Snedeker

On December 15th, the audience at City Center was treated to a diverse selection from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's unique repertoire. The pieces ranged from Ronald K. Brown's spiritually themed Grace, to Jawole Willa Jo Zollar's expression of modern man's challenges in Shelter, and Billy Wilson's joyful dance to Dizzy Gillespie's classic music, The Winter in Lisbon.

The evening started with Mr. Brown's Grace, a piece he describes as being about "people on a journey that we watch". The journey that is brought to life in Brown's choreography is clearly a spiritual one, lead by the lone, white-costumed woman who emerges from a beam of light from a blue doorway cut in the black backdrop. It's a trip from hell to heaven, as illustrated in the transition of Omatayo Wunmi Olaiya's simple costumes, which are mostly red in the beginning, and all white in the end. William H. Grant III's angular lighting, full of beams emerging from unseen sources, reinforces the heavenly feel. The piece opens and closes with different versions of Duke Ellington's Come Sunday which enclose a middle section comprised of hard-driving music by Paul Johnson, Roy Davis. Jr. and Fela Kulti. Brown's choreography is marked by short twisting leaps (half barrel turns?), flexed feet and bent arms, and periods of frenetic, almost possessed dancing. Without exception, the dancers were excellent – powerful and fully committed to the dancing. Though there was never any physical connection between the dancers, each dancer put such energy into the dancing that there was still a powerful spiritual connection – a connection between individual spiritual journeys. The middle section seemed to drag on a bit, as the music and dancing became repetitive, but it allowed one time to watch each dancer and their interpretation of the music and choreography.

The program continued with Ms. Zollar's Shelter, a expression through dance of the problems facing man and beast. Danced by six men clothed in Terri Cousar's earth-toned ragged costumes, with lighting by Meg Fox, the piece is set to a combination of music by Junior Weddenborn and texts by Hattie Gossett, Laurie Carlos and various news sources. The first part of the piece is about the threat of homelessness, the second section about man's destruction of the earth and its creatures. The dancers are a seething mass, dancing alone, touch only when they rush back to becomes a wriggling, shivering pile of humanity. The choreography is full of steps with rotational energy, like pirouettes with bent leg in attitude that reach out, but then contract back into the body, into the group. The dancers were excellent, and each presented an eerily accurate portrayal of the homeless man shivering on a cold winter's street, a man alone without the comfort. Their bodies were taut in the rubber-band contraction of the steps, a tenseness that brought to life the seriousness of the dance's message.

Perhaps the dance is symbolic of cooperation that is needed to solve humanity's problems – no man is an island, no one person or country can find the solutions alone. In the second section the choreography crawls, as if to portray the animals, including ourselves, that humans are endangering with our careless treatment of earth. Again, the image of the group, and the individual. The message is the same, with the warning, that human beings are just another species, another species than can become extinct.

Billy Wilson's The Winter in Lisbon provided a wonderfully upbeat ending to the evening. A joyous romp to Dizzy Gillespie's classic music, it was piece that seemed to be as much fun for the dancers to perform as the audience to watch. Attired in Barbara Forbes' brightly colored costumes, with heels for the women and jazz shoes for the men, the dancers leaped, swung, twisted and flipped around the stage. The choreography at times was reminiscent of Robbins' gymnasium dance choreography in West Side Story, with dancers dancing on and off the stage, and two fairly distinct groups meeting in the center, a festive lighthearted dance competition. (The similarity may not be unintentional as Mr. Wilson was in the original London cast of West Side Story.). Energetically and entertainingly danced, this was an excellent way to end a stellar night of dancing.


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Edited by Malcolm.

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