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Ailey company steps to new heights at the Fox

03.14.11
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

By Calvin Wilson

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is among the world's most famous dance ensembles, and for good reason. It's known for work that appeals to folks who may not otherwise be dance fans, but who respond to the sheer artistry and spectacle on display.

Saturday night at the Fox Theatre, the New York-based company triumphed with a program including its signature piece, "Revelations." About 2,500 people turned out for the third of three weekend concerts presented by Dance St. Louis.

"Uptown," a 2009 piece choreographed by Matthew Rushing, was a tribute to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 30s, whose luminaries included writers Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, jazz composer-bandleader Duke Ellington and scholar-activist W.E.B. DuBois. What might easily have been a dry, preachy exercise proved to be a thrilling romp. Particularly charming was a sequence involving a house-rocking rent party and a jitterbugging cop.

Briana Reed took full advantage of choreographer Camille A. Brown's "Evolution of a Secured Feminine" (2007), wowing the crowd with moves that depended on charisma as much as precision. Set to recordings by Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter and Nancy Wilson, the piece smoldered with sensuality.

"The Hunt" (2001), choreographed by new artistic director Robert Battle, was set to the clanging rhythms of Les Tambours du Bronx, a French percussion band. The soundtrack only enhanced Battle's athletic account of men on a mission.

"Revelations" (1960), originally performed during the struggle to secure civil rights for black Americans, is at once quaint and moving. Choreographed by the late Alvin Ailey and set to gospel music, the piece reaches back into history and embraces the spirituality that got people through hard times. Some of its elements — such as arms stretching hauntingly toward the sky, and a river made of billowing cloth — have become iconic.

With Battle on board, the Ailey company is in transition. But its future seems set to be as glorious as its past.