Alvin Ailey dancers offer joy, emotion

05.16.12
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Charlotte Observer

By Steven Brown

The company’s new leader brought it to the Knight Theater to open its six-day run.

Robert Battle, the new leader of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, came onstage at the Knight Theater to introduce himself before Tuesday’s performance. He said the man who bounded onstage at the beginning of the first work would sum up how he felt on being picked to direct the late Ailey’s company.

So he must’ve been swept away, to judge by the joy that radiated from that first man, the dancers in his wake, and the entirety of Paul Taylor’s “Arden Court.”

Bright 18th-century orchestral music set the tone. With their wide-open arms and striding, gliding steps, the six men who launched it exuded vitality and confidence.

As a series of duets introduced three women, the mood turned to flirtation and competition, and the action – especially the men’s side of it – took on even more whirling excitement. Even when Taylor, in a slower-tempo section, planted the men around the stage in what amounted to a temporary sculpture garden, their stances made them look as though they were about to spring back into action. And soon they did.

There also were bursts of high-energy activity – spinning off from the quick-stepping of hip hop – in Rennie Harris’ “Home.” But that wasn’t the overall mood. At the outset, the musical soundscape was quiet but tense. A man broke free from a clump of people at center stage. Try as he might by clapping, gesturing or dancing, though, he couldn’t get their attention.

That air of being surrounded by people yet alone was at the heart of “Home,” which was inspired by stories told by people with HIV. Sometimes the dancers went their own ways. Sometimes the choreography united two or three or more at a time. But rarely did people touch, and when they did, the contact was faltering and short. The dancers’ ability to inject pensiveness and loneliness in the middle of what might seen like revelry was what made it all so haunting.

The night ended with the company’s calling card, “Revelations.” But there was a prelude: Joyce Trisler’s “Journey,” a woman’s solo that unfolded to spare, quiet Charles Ives orchestral music.

It continued the introspection of “Home,” in a way. There was a yearning that came through in the woman’s eloquent outstretched arms, her balances on one foot, and the long, lyrical phrases. Linda Celeste Sims brought out the emotion, but her ability to sustain it all so securely gave it an undercurrent of strength, too. Then the company took off in the power, drama and jubilation of “Revelations.”