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Alvin Ailey Troupe’s Choreography Consumes the Stage

Dance Numbers Brim with Emotion

By Katherine S. Ryan

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Wang Center for the Performing Arts

April 13, 7:30 p.m.; April 14-17, 8 p.m.; April 17, 2 p.m.; April 18, 3 p.m.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is among the most well-regarded dance companies in the world, and its performances have been lauded for their artistry, athleticism, and cultural value. The company’s yearly arrival in Boston is anticipated with posters draping lampposts and buses around the city, and the company members are welcomed with open arms by enthusiastic audiences. Their performance on Tuesday lived up to the hype.

In their opening night performance, their trademark dance, “Revelations,” (danced at almost every show they perform) was prefaced with three pieces that demonstrated a solid range of artistic intentions. The first was a dance of collapse and sudden silences, the second of passion and rapture, and the third of neurotic chaos. The music was equally varied -- from Moroccan chanting to disco-esque electronica to insistent percussion. The dancers were astounding throughout; they contorted and extended and flipped themselves in all directions, flaunting their well-muscled selves as they engaged the choreography. Dancers are often called athletes, but these company members had football-player quadriceps and rower lats. They use their myofibrils well; they are able to use their strength, or to control it, as the movement demands.

In the most stunning of these first three pieces, called “Treading,” dancer Clifton Brown, bathed in yellow-pink light, danced from his seat on the stage. He then rose, appearing immense in the spotlight. He moved back to his partner, Lisa-Denise Fisher-Harrell, pulling her up to the light and then disappearing into the shadows. She, too, relished her solo, moving her arms like wings and twisting herself to the music of Steve Reich. Then Brown reemerged, and the two joined together, wrapping one limb around the other, enmeshing their arms, legs, and chests and creeping their bodies one over the other. This was a duo of passion -- sensual, beating, and mesmerizing. As Brown pulled his partner off stage, the crowd burst into gasps and applause.

Immediately following this, “Juba” took on a drastically different tone. Held together first like paper-puppets at the hands, holding their arms extended to the air, four blue-costumed players danced in unison, twirling around the stage. Next they broke off to beat their hands on their knees, gyrate wildly to the rapid beat, and run repeatedly in square formations. The ground was initially lit in dramatic yellow lighting, but dissolved into blue, and the dancers ended one movement by collapsing in unison into a rectangle of space lit up on the floor. The dance suggested a chaotic nightmare and the epilepsy of frustration.

Last, to the delight of the old-time fans edgy with anticipation, the final piece, “Revelations,” began. This series of dances is set to gospel tunes. It begins with the company melodiously extending their hands to the sky and executing grande plies, bodies draped in long sand-colored dresses or woven vests. The motions, lighting, and costumes suggest an emergence of people from the soil. The dance morphs next into pure white -- the dancers at first look like aristocrats out for a picnic, except that their movements are too raw, and the piece in the end suggests the purity of renewal. The dancers wear flowing white dresses, twirl huge white parasols, or drag poles decorated with shredded white banners. Finally, in the last part of the piece, nine women dressed up in Sunday church dresses, flapping hand-held fans frantically, come out to nag at their suitors and to dance furiously to the finger-snapping beat of “Rocka My Soul.” The crowd roared with enthusiasm through the bows, and stayed to clap for the entire encore.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is here until the end of the week, set to perform the opening night’s program again tomorrow night. “Revelations” will be shown at all but one show, together with other favorites and newer concoctions; especially promising is “Hymn,” a piece to be performed on Sunday. Student rush tickets ($20) are available for each performance two hours before the curtain.