Ailey dancers take flight in Charlotte return

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Charlotte Observer

By Steven Brown

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater didn't just bring its usual soul and electricity to the opening of its Charlotte run Tuesday night. The dancers made nearly everything look easy.

During a breezy quintet in Matthew Rushing's "Uptown," a trip back to the Harlem Renaissance, five men moved so lightly that their feet hardly made a sound when they touched down. In the main hold-your-breath moment of Alvin Ailey's "Revelations" - when a woman balances on one foot, lifts the other leg almost vertical, then slowly turns 360 degrees - dancer (and Charlotte native) Constance Stamatiou was so steady that it looked like she was in no rush to get through it. It blended seamlessly into the tenderness and soul that the "Fix Me, Jesus" duet is all about.

The company performed the first of three different programs it will alternate through Sunday afternoon. The opener: "Uptown" by Rushing, a dancer in the company since 1992.

A narrator-host dubbed Victor - played exuberantly by Jamar Roberts, whose speaking voice can rival the clarion carrying power of Chris Rock when he gets wound up - conjures up the streets and nightclubs of long-ago Harlem. The spotlight is often on the whirling, prancing energy of the jitterbug. But Rushing moves into his own when the dancers are accompanied by words - such as those of activist W.E.B. Dubois. When DuBois' voice rises from a recording to discuss his work, dancer Vernard Gilmore moves with the same slow, quiet but not-to-be-deterred strength.

Ronald Brown's "Dancing Spirit" takes its title from the autobiography of Judith Jamison, the former dancer who now leads the company. Drawing on instrumental music by Duke Ellington and others, it's one long crescendo in both sound and motion. At first, it harks back to Ailey in its sturdy simplicity. But as it gathers impetus, it draws more on the undulating, buoyant, energy current of African dance.

The dancers made it almost hypnotic Tuesday night. Then "Revelations" broke the trance, replacing it with the passion and exuberance that have long been the Ailey company's calling card.