Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ailey—Pleasures and Lessons

The Pleasure of the Lesson. Photo: Paul Kolnik

At this point, the Ailey company has more active repertory not by Alvin Ailey than by the company's founder. It has become one of the world's larger commissioners and remounters of contemporary dance, by default. One of the season's premieres, The Pleasure of the Lesson, is by Bay Area-based Robert Moses, who also created the score with David Worm. It was performed in the company's Koch Theater spring season.

Moses knows how to craft handsome stage compositions. The dancers arrange themselves in columns, ovals, and lines both parallel and at 90º angles. A woman, lying on a raft of men, rolls atop them and is subsumed by bodies on occasion. In a repeating series of funky lifts, the women sail upward with limbs askew. There's a lot of new stuff to look at, plastically speaking.

The five female/male couples, clad in Jon Taylor's hot- or flesh-colored pieces—panel skirts, short for the women, long for the men; shoulder shrugs, halter tops—were bathed in similarly warm-hued lighting (by Al Crawford). The score varies between sounds, rhythms, and spoken text, most of it unintelligible, and therefore transformed into frustrating background texture. If its meaning underpinned the movement, it was lost in space.

Jacqueline Green in The Pleasure of the Lesson. Photo: Paul Kolnik
Midway through the dance, when the group coheres and does a kind of ritualistic stamping and heel-rocking phrase, I realized that until then, the movement was a series of stop/start poses and sculptures. It was less fluid dance than snapshots—gifs—linked together. This thought was only reinforced while watching Ailey's unavoidable, yet continuously rewarding Revelations—specifically, "Sinner Man," which is the finest section of this condensed anthology of the choreographer's work. Sure, it's one bravura move after another—leaps (Sean Aaron Carmon, sleek as a dart), multiple spins (boy, can Kanji Segawa spin), layouts—but they surehandedly flow across the stage as cursive from a pen. It's simple to take for granted this masterwork from its ubiquity, but it continues to mete out profound, and yes—pleasurable—lessons about the craft.

Rounding out the bill was Wayne McGregor's Chroma, in its second season with Ailey. It worked better at City Center where the shadow box set fit more tightly within the proscenium, and where the audience sits closer to the stage so the dancers are more visible and accessible in this somewhat remote, often dimly-lit piece (that is, when it's not lit bright white). The mostly berry-hued spaghetti strap camisoles are still problematic, at least for the men, and their thigh-joint length chops the dancers' lines in half. McGregor's style might be suited better to ballet-dedicated bodies, as it felt lacking in crispness, if imbued with power. But it remains an interesting curatorial choice. And a note on Jacqueline Green, who performed in all three dances, and who is fast becoming one of the most thrilling dancers in this top-level troupe.

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