The Real Lesson in The Pleasure of The Lesson

By Walter Rutledge


On Thursday, June 11, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater presented the world premiere of The Pleasure of the Lesson by choreographer Robert Moses. The work is a rich, sumptuous erotic adventure danced with an unbridled fervor by an ensemble of ten dancers. The dance begins with a linear “examination” by the men and women, who have been placed in two segregated lines stage left. One of the most visually innovative moments came early into the work when Rachael McLaren rises and falls in a sea of undulating male bodies. Throughout the work there was ample tactile foreplay as the ensemble dissolved into more intimate rendezvous usually in the form of duets.

Structurally Moses created an extremely well crafted dance. The work establishes signature moments that create a movement vocabulary. He developed this vocabulary into a dance language, which was successfully translated to the audience with a masterful and proficient ease. Relationships between couples were established and cleanly defined. The eroticism abounded as the performers attack, submit and encounter with sybaritic abandon. When the wanton debauchery concluded, I kept thinking, “I wished you had kissed me first.”


The real lesson from The Pleasure of The Lesson extends beyond this well constructed work. The lesson is how desensitized we have became both and a society and as balletomanes. The technical proficiency of today’s dancers is phenomenal. Recently I witnessed a jaw dropping triple saut de basque, ten pirouettes are now commonplace and extensions now rise “ten after six o’clock”.

Dance makers have become structure titans. They possess an understanding of choreographic device with an architectural like sense of skill and design. Creating visually rich yet clinical dances abounding with awe-inspiring kinesthesia. What is missing is that thing that used to give one goose bumps, or had you embarrassed at intermission because you had been crying, or made to want to go home and make love fantasizing about who and what you experienced.

Dance is the most visceral of the art forms. It uses the physical paint of human bodies on a proscenium canvas with an atmospheric backdrop of light and sound. Even in abstraction it should speak to your soul, excite you, or make you angry, and at the very least nourish you. All too often one leaves the theater spent from the barrage of technical and physical extremes but emotionally unmoved. Eventually the pendulum has to swing back the other way, and the new marriage of movement and pathos will be glorious.


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