Whew, another dance marathon weekend. Saturday afternoon, I went to see another Alvin Ailey performance. Top pic is of the dancers’ profiles, in the City Center lobby. This show was particularly special for two reasons. One was that it was one of the few “All Ailey” specials they’re doing this season, so they performed several excerpts from his ballets, some of which I’d never seen before. My favorites (besides “Revelations” of course, which they performed last, and which they almost always do each show) were: “Night Creature” — a jazzy tribute to Duke Ellington; “Opus McShann” — a gorgeous pas de deux performed by Olivia Bowman and Glenn Allen Sims (one of my favorite dancers with the company) and to music composed and performed by Jay McShann whom, I’m embarrassed to say, I don’t know; “For ‘Bird’ – With Love” — a fun theatrical piece that took place in a jazz club replete with ‘musicians,’ ‘singers,’ and ‘showgirls,’ and in tribute, obviously, to Charlie Parker (whom Sims, again, played / danced); and “Cry” — which I’d seen before, danced to disco music performed by The Voices of East Harlem and in celebration of “all Black women everywhere, especially our mothers.”
I think what I love so much about Ailey is that I completely recognize every move his dancers make — they’re so natural, so organic to the character and meaning of the ballet. With so much modern dance, I find the movements are so abstract that I can’t understand them, and the ‘story’ — whether it’s a linear narrative or not — is either nonexistent or just not accessible to me. With Ailey, I recognize everything his dancers do: the arabesques or battements (back and front kicks, basically), look like something someone who’s putting his heart and soul into playing his sax would naturally do. But they’re not just straight arabesques and battements as taught in classical ballet; they have a jazzy attitude. And, the hands in the air, palms facing upward, at the beginning of Revelations, look like worshippers searching for God, praying for salvation. It’s like he told his dancers to go out on the streets and into nightclubs and churches and watch people intensely, and then bring that to their dancing. The result is characters everyone immediately recognizes; stories that make sense to the viewer, while still taking him/her to a higher level with the beauty of classically-trained movement.
The second reason the matinee was special was that it was one of their “family days” which meant, apparently, that they gave discounts to families, so lots and lots, and LOTS of them showed up. Made for a somewhat noisy audience! But that aside, it was really nice to see very young people being exposed to dance.
At the end of the performance, some of the dancers hosted a Q & A with the audience. Guillermo Asca, Olivia Bowman, and Vernard Gilmore fielded audience queries ranging from what made them want to dance with Ailey (Gilmore said the first time he saw “Wade in the Water” from Revelations — my favorite piece from that ballet too! — he was a goner), how old they were when they began dancing (all were children), to how they kept the choreography — some of it rather old now — fresh and alive, and what they ate before performing. Okay, answers to that last one revealed to me that I cannot, no how no way, ever be a pro dancer! Bowman said she “juiced frequently” and sometimes had some yogurt too, but really just “juiced” a lot. Gilmore said he just went to some place called “Wh—” something or rather; some organic food store I’d never heard of and loaded up on — and here I swear he began speaking a foreign language. I heard wheat grass, but couldn’t understand anything else. This guy (on far right in the above pic) had a body to die for; had the most finely sculpted abs I have seen. What, pray tell, is wheat grass??? The moderator, whose name I forgot — I think she was Nasha Thomas-Schmitt, the arts-in-education director, who used to dance with the company, saved us from all feeling like a bunch of lard asses by claiming that she used to eat burgers and pasta before each performance. “Please, if I just drank juice before dancing ‘Cry’, I’d faint!” Definitely! Anyway, it was a lot of fun, and many little kids were the ones asking the questions, so it was cute. Afterwards, I saw Nasha and some other dancers in the lobby signing autographs and posing for pictures with the little ones.
Also, I saw this flier in the program. How sweet would it be to have an Alvin Ailey birthday party?! Almost makes me want to have kids…
Then, tonight, I went to see “Tappy Holidays,” a tap dance show celebrating the Christmas season that was recommended by Matt, whose sister, Carson Murphy, performed alongside such tap legends as Michelle Dorrance, Jason Samuels Smith and Jared Grimes. I thought Carson was so sweet — she danced really well and had a great stage presence; she seemed like she had some acting experience because I thought a lot of her facial and body expressions really helped to sell her dancing. Anyway, it’s been a very very long time since I’ve seen any tap dancing, and it was really just so amazing. I’d never seen Samuels Smith and Grimes before, and those two, they really just floored me. The way they moved, the speed, the attitude, and the complicated steps, the many turns, I just hadn’t realized tap dancing could be so brilliant. They were simply stunning.
Here’s a picture of Samuels Smith taking a bow:
And here are some other dancers in the cast: Carson is the one in the middle in black, and Michelle Dorrance is on the left, on the mike:
The event was extremely popular. It was general admission seating, and when I got to Symphony Space, half an hour early, the line was already around the block: (please forgive the reverse-order of these pics!). Passersby were all asking people in line what in the world was going to happen in there!
Tap and ballroom used to be so popular, in the era of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers at least. Perhaps since ballroom is enjoying a resurgence, tap will too?…
One last thought. I hope it is okay for me to say this. But all weekend, I couldn’t help thinking of my clients, that many of these amazingly brilliant dancers could have ended up like them. And yet they didn’t; and my clients did. Is it just a simple matter of “there for the grace of God go I” that some people end up becoming pimps and crack dealers and spend a good part of their lives behind bars, and some become great performers, or it there something more that can explain the difference? At the end of “Tappy Holidays,” they pulled down a movie screen and showed some pictures of the dancers as children. Jason Samuels Smith looked like he was bouncing right off the walls with energy as a little kid. He must have been a real handful for his mother, who I know is a great jazz dancer herself. Being introduced to dance at at young age (as he presumably was, by being blessed with parents in the business) must definitely have given him a creative outlet for all that energy, enabling him to use it in an extremely productive way, providing an invaluable service to humanity. I wonder if dance was introduced to more kids, before they had a chance to mess up their lives forever (because the consequences of one conviction, tragically, can last a lifetime), it could make a real difference in this society. How awesome for the Alvin Ailey company for seeking the answer.