12/13/21 O&A NYC DANCE REVIEW: Ailey Presents Two Premieres Offering Hope

By Walter Rutledge

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater began their 2021 fall New York City season December 1 at New York City Center. The annual holiday season usually runs five weeks ending with a festive New Year’s Eve finale. This highly anticipated return to live indoor performance (the first since 2019) will offer the public an abridged three-week season that runs through December 19, 2021.

The Company is presenting a total of eighteen works over eighteen days. The ambitious fall offering includes seven works by founder Alvin Ailey, five from Robert Battle, four new productions and two premieres by Battle and the company’s first resident choreographer Jamar Roberts. The recently retired company member, (Roberts last performance was during this season on December 9th) created a cathartic and holistic environment in the age of COVID designed to foster healing. 

Robert’s Holding Space, a twelve-member ensemble work, filled the space with what can be best described as “organized choreo-chaos”. The dancers performed the same movement, but in different time signatures and at different angles. Slowly the dancers begin moving in individual patterns forming duets, trios, and small groups. The multiple patterns, happening simultaneously, heighten the tension and pushed the audience to visually dart from one group and configuration to another.

Eventually the dancers formed three lines (stage right, stage left and center) these linear progressions provided a modicum of order while allowing the dancers to maintain their movement individuality. One distinct image Roberts used effectively had dancers balanced on a forced arch with the pelvis dramatically thrusted forward, giving the turns and extensions an off kilter look and a desolate feeling. Tim Hecker’s harrowing score and the atmospheric lighting by Brandon Stirling Baker created an austere and sober otherworld.

A large square frame supported by four dancers (one at each corner) appears upstage left making the proceeding section the most thought provoking. Filled with arresting imagery the dancers one at a time entered the space inside the cube/isolation chamber; mirroring the isolation many people faced at the height of the pandemic.

The series of solos evolved into character studies portraying angst, aloneness and frustration. These emotions permeated the tight and expressive movement embellished by open mouths, outstretched arms and reaching hands. Personal and introspective these psychodramas recalled Ana Sokolow’s Rooms, where inner city people living in proximity were still isolated and alone. Throughout, the raw and abandon movement was tempered by the dancer’s incredible control.

The lights changed from a cool darkness to warm amber in the last section, while the dancers reprised the movement from the opening section. This time the choreography was performed in unison. The chaos was replaced by a meditative synchrony symbolizing the beginning of the end of despair.

Holding Space is an ambitious undertaking. The strong introspective elements produced a cerebral, “thinking man’s” ballet. Roberts’ efforts were admirable, but needed more contrast. The combination of dark lighting, musical monotony, nuanced movement and protracted length caused the work to meander. 

One thing the company founder and its present artistic director have in common is an affinity for jazz music. Both artists understood/understand the fusion of function, form and style synonymous with jazz music and dance. From the beginning Ailey’s portrayal of the African American experience was acclaimed for the works universal consciousness.

Blues Suite (1958), his first work for the then newly established Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, is a fusion of modern dance, ballet, jazz, black vernacular dance and non-verbal storytelling. From the down-home feel of Backwaters Blues to the symphonic power of Ellington, the poetry of Parker and the lyric longing of Jarrett; Ailey created dances that captured the majesty of this great American art form.

An American art form born and reared by former slaves and their descendants in the speakeasies and brothels of New Orleans Storyville District. Sadly, Storyville is another community where the people were displaced, and the community eased. (How wonderful would a revival Donald McKayle’s District Storyville be?)

To commemorate his 10th anniversary as company artistic director Battle created For Four set to a jazz rendering by New Orleans native and jazz phenom Winton Marsalis. With classic Battle wit the quartet’s title is derived from the composition’s 4 x 4-time signature, but there is nothing “four square” about this work. Battle created a stylish and fun celebration marking our enthusiastic return to normality.

Fusing a multiplicity of style with strong dance theater elements this abstract narrative is a perfect vehicle to showcase his stellar cast. Renaldo Maurice opened and closed the work with a Master of Ceremonies whirling dervish aplomb; while Samantha Figgins executed a series of undulating fouetté inspired turns that oozed with liquid perfection. Jacqueline Green moved with such a total commitment that even her hair danced! And Solomon Dumas “do no wrong persona” wooed the audience the moment he walked on stage. In fact, the entire cast ricocheted through the energetic score with whimsical syncopated verve.

There are six more opportunities to experience the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater live at New York City Center. For ticket information visit ailey.org.

Ailey Performance Schedule

December 14, 7:30pm- Ailey and Ellington: The River, Pas de Duke, Reflections In D,                                                               Revelations

December 15, 7:30pm- 50 Years of Cry: Blues Suite, Cry, Revelations

December 16, 7:30pm- Lazarus

December 17, 8pm- Battle 10th Anniversary: Mass, Ella, In/Side, For Four, Untold, Love Stories                                                                                   (finale)

December 18, 8pm- Shelter, BUSK, Revelations

December 19, 3pm- Season Finale: Season Highlights, Revelations

 In Photo: 1) Robert Battle and Company 2) Jamar Roberts and Robert Battle 3) Company (Holding Space) 4) Yannick Lebron and Company (Holding Space) 5) Alvin Ailey and Company (Blues Suite) 6) Marilyn Banks (District Storyville) 7)  Renaldo Maurice, Samantha Figgins, Belén Indhira Pereyra and Solomon Dumas 8) Samantha Figgins

Photographer: 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8 Christopher Duggan 5 & 6) Jack Mitchell

12/8/19 O&A NYC DANCE: A Conversation With Yannick LeBrun- Ailey’s Danseur Noble

By Walter Rutledge 

A danseur noble is a male dancer who projects great nobility of character. A dancer who performs at the highest theatrical level combining exceptional grace, technique and strength. In a prior review I referred to Ailey principal dancer Yannick LeBrun as a danseur noble. It was not one performance or one season that brought me to that conclusion, but a career collective. Continue reading

8/18/17 (Repost) O&A NYC Shall We Dance Friday: Desmond Richardson- Lament and Encore Performance Precious Blood with Carmen de Lavallade

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Desmond Richardson is a dancer, co-founder and co-artistic director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet. He has mastered a wide range of dance forms including classical, modern, contemporary ballet and jazz making him one of the most recognized performers of his generation. Continue reading

(REPOST) 12/19/16 O&A NYC DANCE: Jeroboam Bozeman Dance Warrior

By Walter Rutledge

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President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort”. Jeroboam Bozeman is living Roosevelt’s observation. At first glance Jeroboam is a quiet, reserved young man with a warm and genuine smile; on stage Bozeman is a dance warrior. This talented 23 years old performer will make his debut with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater during the New York City Center season, which begins on Wednesday, December 4.

Jeroboam Bozeman part one

A native of Brooklyn, New York Jeroboam was one of those fortunate individuals who discovered his “joy of achievement” early in life. He began studying dance at the Ronald Edmonds Learning Center (Junior High School 113) in Brooklyn with Ruth Sistaire. It was Sistaire who soon introduced Jeroboam to Creative Outlet Dance Theater of Brooklyn, a community based dance school and company.

Jeroboam Bozeman part two

Under Artistic Director Jamel Gaines’ guidance Jeroboam got his first real taste of the New York City dance scene. He trained in a nurturing family-like environment with working professionals including former Ailey dancers Shirley Black Brown and Raquelle Chavis. At age 16 he was asked to perform with the company and toured London, England. These experiences with Creative Outlet gave this young artist a chance to see the world, earn income and most importantly build a professional ethos.

Bozeman’s talents were rewarded with full scholarships to attend two of New York City’s most prestigious dance schools, the Joffrey Ballet School and Dance Theatre of Harlem. By age 19 his commitment and hard work paid off once again when he was chosen by choreographer Sarita Allen to performing in the Far East touring company of Elton John and Tim Rice’s musical Aida. These experiences helped shape the aspiring artist, but his career defining moment can when Jeroboam joined Philadanco.

Jeroboam Bozeman part three

The venerable Philadelphia Dance Company known to the general public, as Philadanco was the environment that propelled Bozeman from neophyte to professional. He credits the no nonsense approach of Artistic Director/Founder Joan Myers Brown for his artistic growth. For over 40 years Brown’s strong repertory company has featured choreography by such dance luminaries as Talley Beatty, George Faison, Rennie Harris and Ronald K. Brown; during his three-year association with the company Jeroboam learned to dance beyond the footlights.

A turning point for Bozeman came during the rehearsals of the solo from Faison’s Suite Otis. Former Ailey dancer and current Philadanco Rehearsal Director/coach Debora Chase-Hicks pushed him to find that inner dance warrior. The sessions were a watershed moment for Jeroboam, helping him move his artistry to the next level.

Jeroboam Bozeman part four

Returning to New York in 2012 Bozeman danced with Ailey II under the direction of then newly appointed Artistic Director Troy Powell. Less than a year later he was invited to join the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. As Bozeman makes this next career move he retains a humble teachable spirit, unpretentious demeanor and that exuberate smile. We wish this rising dance warrior much continued success.

Originally posted 12/2/13 for Harlem World Magazine

8/21/17 (REPOST) O&A NYC DANCE: Alvin Ailey- Cry

By Walter Rutledge

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In 1971, Alvin Ailey created Cry, one of his signature dance works, as a birthday present for his mother Lula Elizabeth Ailey. Ailey dedicated the ballet to “all black women everywhere — especially our mothers.” The three-part ballet, set to popular and gospel music by Alice Coltrane, Laura Nyro and Chuck Griffin, depicts a woman’s journey through the agonies of slavery to an ecstatic state of grace. Cry premiered at New York City Center on May 4, 1971. Continue reading

2/26/16 O&A NYC SHALL WE DANCE FRIDAY: Dudley Williams Dances Alvin Ailey’s Love Songs

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In 1972, Alvin Ailey created the elegiac solo Love Songs for dancer Dudley Williams. The  sixteen minute solo, composed in three sections includes A Song for You by Donny Hathaway; Poppies by Nina Simone; and He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother by Donny Hathaway. Many  thought of the work as the male equivalent of the female solo Cry (1971). Continue reading

3/24/15 O&A: Only In The Darkness Can You See The Stars- Dance Of The Village Elders Perform Friday

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The Harlem Hospital Auxiliary, in partnership with the Ailey Arts In Education & Community Programs, presents The Dance Of The Village Elders in Only In The Darkness Can You See The Stars on Friday, March 27; 6pm in the Herbert Cave Auditorium located on the 2nd floor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Pavilion at Harlem Hospital Center, 560 Lenox Avenue at 135 Street. The program title Only In The Darkness Can You See The Stars was a statement made by Martin Luther King Jr. during the bleakest days of the civil rights struggle. Continue reading

2/3/15 O&A- A Conversation With Dudley Williams (Part Two)

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In this finale installment of A Conversation with Dudley Williams, Dudley continues to share anecdotes about working with Alvin Ailey, discusses training the next generation and takes questions from the audience. The evening hosted by Clack Center NYC and moderated by dance critic and author Jennifer Dunning, took place on Thursday October 23, 2014. at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Bruno Walter Auditorium. 

Continue reading

10/18/14 O&A Shall We Dance Friday: Dudley Williams- A Song For You (1986) An Excerpt From Love Songs

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Jennifer Dunning’s December 14, 1986 New York Times review of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater began with an acknowledgement to dancer Dudley Williams. The title and opening paragraphs says it all. Continue reading

Fred Benjamin Memorial Planned for Saturday, August 23, 2014

By Walter Rutledge

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There will be a memorial service for dancer, choreographer and teacher Fred Benjamin on Saturday, August 23rd; 6:30pm at Saint Peters Church, 619 Lexington Avenue at the corner of 53rd Street. Friends, colleagues, former students and company members will speak including Gina Ellis, Marilyn Banks and Mercedes Ellington. The memorial will not present Benjamin’s choreograph through live performance, instead film and photos will be presented. Prior to the start of the service there will be a wine toast to Benjamin, who died of organ failure on December 14, 2013 in Manhattan. He was 69.  Continue reading