ALVIN AILEY II

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(Josh Johnson and Fana Fraser in Sidra Bell’s Valse, photo by Eduardo Patino; all photos below by Eduardo Patino as well)

Last night for the first time I saw Alvin Ailey II, Alvin Ailey’s studio company comprised mainly of young dancers. Wow! The dancers were so remarkable — all of them! I couldn’t believe it. Usually when you see the studio company the dancers are up and coming, not quite as good as the ones in the full touring company, but these dancers truly amazed me. No wonder so many go on to join the main troupe.

There were four pieces: three modern and one jazzy, classical Ailey (which I really loved). First was Valse (pictured above), by a young, highly accomplished choreographer, Sidra Bell, with modern music that had lots of percussion (which I liked) by Dennis Bell. This piece reminded me a bit of Jorma Elo with a lot of movement alternating between sharp and staccato and more flowing, and lots of jagged shapes and rather intensely-thrust lines created in part by hyperextended arms and legs (which I like, but realize is very modern and not to everyone’s tastes).

Josh Johnson in particular stood out to me. He’s a tall dancer with long long lines, like Antonio Douthit and Yannick Lebrun and Amos Machanic in Alvin Ailey. Maybe because of his long lines I noticed him more here, but he’d reach up skyward with one arm, then grab it with the other hand and bring it back down, as if the arm was out of control and he needed to bring it back in line. This kind of mechanical movement, like the body struggling to break free from robotic-like movements imposed on it, is what reminded me of Elo. Costumes were also intriguingly incongruous: male dancers wore black tops with high necklines and puffed sleeves that looked king-ly, along with spandex biking-shorts; women wore corset-looking tops with ballet-like tulle skirts. It was an interesting dance, definitely with a dark undercurrent, like Balanchine’s Valse.

Second was “The Calling”, a short section from Jessica Lang’s Splendid Isolation II. Fana Fraser danced this solo beautifully. She wore a white gown with a long long train that spread out in all directions across the floor, nearly taking up the stage. She began with her back toward the audience, but turned somehow under that dress without disturbing the intricate fan-like pattern made by the flared skirt on the floor, and lowered and raised her legs so that it looked like she was melting into the ground, then rising up from it. The rest of the dance consisted of lovely arm movement while her feet remained stationery.

Next was Hope (The Final Rise) by AAII artistic director Troy Powell.

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(Dementia Hopkins and Josh Johnson in Hope)

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(Megan Jakel and Renaldo Gardner in Hope)

This was one of my favorites, but it’s hard to explain why! The piece was full of energy and there was a lot of very difficult movement, with fast kicks and whizzing spins going into difficult-looking lifts. I felt like this was the artistic director’s test for the dancers, and they came through with flying colors :) The music, by David Chesky, had a strong, powerful, even militant feel to it, with a voice chanting, “Rise up, children, right now.”

And then, the evening ended with my favorite piece of the night, the very well-liked George Faison’s Movin’ On.

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(cast in Movin’ On)

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(Jarvis McKinley and Megan Jakel in Movin’ On)

This was a jazzy balletic piece — a combination of both classical ballet and jazz steps — that was wonderfully reminiscent of classic Alvin Ailey. It takes place in a night club, much like Night Creature and Blues Suite, and consists of a set of unique and endearing characters just hanging out, playing music, flirting with each other, dancing the night away, playing starlet, having a good time. There are three men — members of the jazz band — who jump atop chairs and move just like the instruments. There’s a sweetly arrogant Night Creature-like woman who fancies herself a jazz starlet, and struts and glides and jetes across the stage just like one. And there’s a ballerina who becomes attracted to the street boy. I loved the two who danced the latter couple in particular. Both — Megan Jakel and Jarvis McKinley–  stood out to me all night. McKinley moves very well, especially in the more jazzy movements. And I thought Jakel, along with Fana Fraser, were very charismatic. They just had that something that drew your eye to them. And Josh Johnson, who danced one of the musicians, has such a fluidity. The way his arms waved about, they were like water. At one point, Faison himself read (offstage) a Langston Hughes poem, Harlem, which gave the whole thing a rather sobering feel. Like all the fun and frolic was masking a deeper tragedy. Judging by the mass of applause, the rest of the audience loved this dance as well.

I noticed in the program that S. Epatha Merkerson from Law and Order helped to underwrite the costumes for the production. I remember she’d read a poem (onstage) in a recent Complexions piece that I loved. Who knew she was so involved in dance!

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