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Ailey II dances at the Wilson Center

02.12.12
Ailey II
Thirdcoast Digest

By Jennifer Reinke

Alvin Ailey II may be the junior company of world-renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, but don’t let the name fool you. These young dancers delivered a world-class performance Saturday (Feb. 11) at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts.

Choreographer Alvin Ailey enriched modern dance with the vernacular and narratives of African-American culture. Ailey also promoted diversity beyond that, and dance has benefited from this infusion. Saturday, we saw the evolution of this strain of modern dance through in three pieces that together span five decades of choreography.

Thang Dao’s Echoes, from 2008, classical modern dance piece, owes much to lighting designer Al Crawford’s subdued illumination. The curtain opens to reveal dark human forms embedded in still deeper darkness. The effect is illusory, ghastly. Spread throughout the stage, lonely bodies convulse – an unsettling, powerful introduction.

Ezio Bosso’s hypnotic, minimalist string quartet music from the Italian film Io Non Ho Paura motivates movement. Brief, beautiful duets emerge out of the mass of dancers, and then quickly dissipate. Long, leggy women float above partners. Curving torsos and spiraling arms weave dancers in and out of shadows.

Eventually, the dancers converge, to move as one body. The group lifts and transports individuals. We feel the dancers’ lightness in the hands of others. From isolation to community, from anxiety to comfort, from dejection to redemption, the individual becomes the group.

Inspired by the movement and culture of hip-hop, The Corner, choreographed in 2010 by Kyle Abraham, was a sharp departure from Dao’s sinuous choreography. Abraham showcased the dancers’ impressive versatility and athleticism.

Though punctuated with jerky, angular movements and gestures from the street, the choreography remains thoroughly grounded in the conventions of modern dance. Brief bits of dialogue work well as transitions and to cultivate rough authenticity. Short vignettes portray everyday occurrences: a girl fixes her hair, a guy break dances, two men play dice.

The dance is a collage. Like life on the street, like modern dance, it’s made of an eclectic blend of resources. Its musical setting begins with rapper Common’s The Corner. The excitement of the ensemble’s pounding, energetic opening calms as two men, and then two women, perform duets to Chopin piano pieces. The dance culminates to two soul songs from Donny Hathaway.

The evening closed with Revelations, Ailey’s most popular and critically acclaimed work. Choreographed in 1960, it was inspired by his Texas childhood and the blues, spirituals, and gospel in which he was immersed.