Thursday, February 11, 2016

Review: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Ailey Company at Merriam brings home Rennie Harris's Home

Review: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater


On Wednesday night, Robert Battle programmed Paul Taylor’s 1981 masterpiece Arden Court as the opening note on Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s three-night run at the Merriam Theater. Even with William Boyce’s Baroque music, this company breathed new life into Taylor’s work and into the closer, the 1960 classic Revelations.

The six men in the work danced like tightly coiled springs rapidly released, or in static moments, X’d their bodies stiffly to be turned hands over heels by another man, one man rolled across the floor as the curtain dropped. Linda Celeste Sims, Rachael McLean and Alicia Graf Mack were ethereal ballerinas wafting over the shoulders of the men. But, as with most Taylor works, the men had the edge.

In Battle’s 1999 work Takademe, Jamar Roberts charmed in red ruched pants by Missoni wriggling his way through multiple personality changes to fit Sheila Chandra’s vocalizations.

But the most sensational work was the Philadelphia premiere of Philadelphia’s own Rennie Harris’s Home to a terrific musical arrangement by another homie and former Harris’ Puremovement dancer, Raphael Xavier. Former Philadanco dancer Hope Boykin stood out from the women in this hot number that featured sizzling performances by the 14-member cast led by the matchless Matthew Rushing. Xavier used New York house DJ Dennis Ferrer’s “Deep, Deep Where the Sun Don’t Shine” as a musical anthem and the techno beat gave Harris a multiplicity of choreographic possibilities. With the cast huddled together as if for protection, Rushing breaks out and begins the fast and fancy footwork and flying fingers that mark this dance throughout. Ultimately all the dancers break into house dancing, each sometimes in his or her own cloud of energy. But underlying the sensational torso-bending, hip-rocking movements were the B-Boy moves Harris grew up on and is justly famous for having created them into a new genre for the stage.

Here the moves were softer, as if seen through fog, so swift the hops, sideways skips, leg crossovers, so elegant the interactions. At this soulful work’s end, Rushing gathers everyone back into the hushed huddle.

Of course, any Ailey audience would stay all night to see Revelations over and over. The Alvin Ailey-choreographed praise dance never loses its punch, its beauty, its sass. It’s a classic that will last forever.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Merriam Theater

250 S Broad St.

Tonight, 8 p.m.

Tickets $39 to $75 call 215-893-1999 to purchase

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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