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Undeniably charismatic Alvin Ailey troup performs a mixed bag



"Shards" by Donald Byrd (premiere).

"Masekela Langage" by Alvin Ailey.

"The Stack-Up" by Talley Beatty.

Wang Celebrity Series.

At the Wang Center, Thursday, April 13.


CELEBRATING ITS 30TH anniversary, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater sashayed into Beantown last week for another energizing, sold-out run at the Wang Center. Last Thursday's show brought a mixed bag of both offerings and results, ranging from the Boston premiere of a new work to established Ailey standards. Most varied was the choreography and execution.

The first of three pieces was the Boston premiere of Donald Byrd's new work, "Shards." The somber, cerebral music of Mio Morales set the tone for the piece, while the diffuse, low lighting and dark costumes further enhanced the effect. The floating, airy choreography seen through most of the piece, however, seemed to contradict the tight, constrained movement that opened and closed the piece. Even though the dancing appeared soft in comparison to the heavy shading of the music and lighting, it remained within context through slow and precise movement that was punctuated by short bursts of energy.

The subtle contrast of dance and music brought about a tantalizing effect: "Shards" evoked a bright energy just beneath a calm, cool exterior, an energy waiting to break free but always kept in check. The dancing was exceptionally controlled and exact, almost balletic in form and precision -- the entire troupe, and in particular the lead duo (whose names I am unable to extract from the program -- pd)-- danced with a wonderful sense of powerful nobility.

"Masekela Langage," by Alvin Ailey, followed and displayed many Ailey trademarks: it is a tale of the black American experience told in vignette style, it has steaming sexuality, and there is an extended use of props. Ailey's stage is cluttered with standard characters from Ailey's repertoire: painted ladies, pimps, and other assorted lowlifes. The piece resonates with wanton sexuality, often tantalizingly offered but abruptly denied.

The dancers were always perfectly in character, both in posture and motion, whether displaying slouched shoulders, a haughty stance, or a confused gaze. At times, however, the precision which the dancers brought to their characters and dance was a drawback where it had been an advantage in the earlier "Shards": the exacting movement lacked the necessary spontaneous emotion for the piece. "Masekela Langage" also seemed a bit dated in theme and execution, but there were moments which excelled: the piece was at its best when the choreography called for use of props or during scenes of fighting and violence.

The evening ended with Talley Beatty's "The Stack-Up," which proved the night's weakest offering. Compared with the two earlier works, it seemed simplistic and trite. The themes were similar to those in "Masekela Langage": motifs of emotional inclusion and exclusion, with the shadow of drugs darkening the final segment. However, these themes were brought out less through choreography than through the piece's actual storyline, giving "The Stack-Up" less depth than "Masekela Langage." The dancing showed plenty of energy and broad, painted-on smiles, but little true emotion.

Last Thursday's offering by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater proved only half successful, but a poor choice of works was more a stumbling block than poor dancing. The Alvin Ailey troupe proved once again their undeniable, energetic charisma and, with "Shards," their ability for executing heartfelt choreography.