Sexy on Stage
Alvin Ailey Paints Jazz
Alvin Ailey: American Dance Theater
April 27, 3 p.m.
I had such a good time with Alvin Ailey. I’m an impatient person, so usually the shorter the show, the better. But the combination of jazzy, rollicking music and strong, impressive, colorful dancers made me wish the show would go on forever. People to my left and right were clapping and tapping their feet so much that my seat was shaking, quite a feat for a dance show.
The program began with “Winter in Lisbon,” an energetic, fun dance showcasing popular moves and songs. The bright, spring-colored costumes turned the dancers into eye candy. The women wore all orange, pinks and purples -- even brightly colored hose and shoes, and the men wore Hawaiian shirts and bright blue suspenders. Dancing together as if they were at a party in the 1940s, they picked each other up, swung each other around, and hopped over one another. Between the high energy sections, there was a slower, romantic section, titled “Lisbon,” in which two very beautiful, strong dancers, male and female, practically made love to each other on stage, flirting and teasing over a hat. The audience responded with enormous applause and shouts.
The second dance, “Serving Nia,” was less energetic and way too long. It was the only part of the show that bordered on boring. The choreography was simple and primitive: a bunch of men dancing to the gods. I think that the point was to represent traditional African music and dance. The men wore ugly brown skirts that looked like sacks and danced stiffly -- well, masculinely. I couldn’t help but wonder if women would make it more fluid, less goofy-looking. During this performance I noticed that not every Alvin Ailey dancer is created equal: most are decent but some are outstanding. They performed with humor and enthusiasm, as if they knew they looked silly, and they jerked their bodies this way and that to exaggerate this awkwardness. It ended much better than it began, with the better dancers showcasing amazing amounts of strength, flexibility and talent.
The third dance, “Revelations,” ended the night with a bang. Dancers moved to traditional folk songs and wore slave costumes. This is a well-known Alvin Ailey dance, and the best I’d ever seen it performed. The opening, to “I Been ’Buked,” might have been paintings or photographs. The dancers, close together, moved in and out of different images, always returning to an image like a bird.
Then, in my favorite part of the night, the dancers acted out their parts to the powerful spiritual, “Wade in the Water.” Strung across the stage were two long sheets of thin, blue cloth, which dancers at either end moved up and down like rippling water. Through this water three ladies dressed in lacy ruffled dresses danced, three bare-chested men in tight white pants jumped and spun. Most amazing was that one woman held an elegant white ruffled umbrella high in the air the entire time. White clothes and blue rippling water mixed well with the white umbrella dancing high in the air. Again, the scene reminded me of a painting.
The rest of “Revelations” featured the men dancing solo, showing off leaps and turns and impressive stunts that won lots of applause, while the women, wearing straw hats, sassily sat in straw chairs. They all came together in a choreographed, on-stage party, then bowed and bowed to much-deserved applause.
Throughout the performance, I marveled at the amazing skill of the dancers: the sexiness of the women in their slinky dresses, the strength and character of the men in their straw hats and slick shoes, the music behind it all -- jazz. Dizzy Gillespie, Branford Marsalis, traditional folk songs: the dancers gave form to the music and made it visual. Through the sights and sounds of dance, the audience absorbed the music and the emotions surrounding it -- pride, love and struggle -- and at the end of the night, took Alvin Ailey home.