By Patricia Boccadoro
22 October 2001 - In
these uncertain times, the prospect of seeing the Alvin Ailey American
Dance Theater at the opening of the Nouveau Festival International de
Danse de Paris was really something to look forward to. However, on
this occasion, expectations were only partially fulfilled due to the
choice of repertory coupled by the fact that none of the ballets
presented was accompanied by live music.
The programme began
with Grace, a 1999 work by Ronald K. Brown, set to various
pieces of music including Duke Ellington's Come Sunday,
passing by the hip hop style of Roy Davis Junior and Paul Johnson. The
ballet, requested by the French organisers, had obviously been
considered a good curtain- raiser with which to open the Festival,
presided over, as it was two years ago by Madame Bernadette Chirac.
But with its limited choreography and poorly amplified music, it was
slick, sophisticated, and empty. Perhaps a feast for the eyes, but
certainly not for the soul. Hardly a cut above what can be seen in a
Paris disco. The fact that it was superbly danced does in no way
excuse it, for Alvin Ailey's company is far more than just another
troupe of lovely dancers with beautiful bodies in swirling scarlet
performing works which are neither particularly modern, nor
particularly West African.
Ailey American Dance Theater
Photo: J.C. Gesaviers
second piece, Following the Subtle Current Upstream, striking
though it was, had little more to recommend it. What it did show,
however, is that the technical level of the troupe seems to have gone
even higher since they were last in France. A plotless work, Following
the Subtle Current ...., gives free rein to all the performers and
highlights five male virtuosos, big, graceful men whose rapid yet
vibrant dancing was so amazing that at times I actually thought the
stage was moving. Nor were they helped by the music of Zakir Hussain,
all plonks and twangs, and over-loud in the packed auditorium.
company finally came into their own with Revelations, the
sublime one act ballet set to a score based on traditional black
religious music , created by Ailey when he was twenty-nine years old.
Tracing man's spiritual journey from suffering through to repentance,
and on to joyful salvation, the work remains as new and fresh as it
must have been at its creation over forty years ago. Exceptional from
the very first moment by virtue of both the choreography and the
interpretation, it has style and distinction. Emotionally and visually
extremely beautiful, it has understandably become the company's
signature work, illustrating their very reason for being. It is works
of this quality which have given the company such a strong identity
and renown, for dance, even extraordinary dance, is not simply about
admiring the interpreters if the movements they are making are
meaningless. The current troupe is extremely likeable and the power of
interpretation stupendous. With such artists, why programme works
which are merely displays of technique?
Ailey American Dance Theater: Revelations
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will be appearing in New York in
December 2001 with a new work by Judith Jamison.
Festival continues with performances by the Ballet du Theatre National
de Prague which will be followed by the Tokyo Ballet.
Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in
Europe. She contributes to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times
and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf
Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.com.