Five days of multi-cultural dance performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, led by artistic director, Robert Battle was kicked off in grand fashion April 17 as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater marked its fifteenth year of performances.
Entering the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion just before the scheduled 7:30 p.m. start time, the regality of the African American presence is felt, not only from the energy coming from the yet unseen dancers, or the architecture of the grand theater’s structure with its draping curtain and arching elevated seating, but the rainbow of color and style that is created by elite African-Americans gathering together.
Initially red and white clad dancers emerged from a misty veil and African drum beats sounded. This performance titled “Grace” was set to music by Duke Ellington, Fela Kuti and was choreographed by Ronald K. Brown. The viewer is moved to either decipher the movements as if they were a spoken language that was not fully understood or sit back and view the movement of limbs and fabric as if it were a moving abstract painting.
One dancer stood out from the rest. A dark sister in red stepped out from the group of dancers for a solo. Her body pulsated and winded, contorting in ways not seen in daily life, only seen in artistic dreamscapes of fantasy. More dancers emerged and they blended together looping and twisting across the stage with quick leaps and the precision of martial artists.
Then they were gone, and back again, this time in white. Eleven dancers danced as it became difficult to stay focused on one. The reds subsided, and blues and turquoises filled the stage and all eleven dancers wore white cloth that draped from their bodies forming lines that curved and flowed with each movement.
English flowed from the sound system. “Lord, Dear Lord,” the melodic, female voice sung, setting a spiritual theme to the display of artistic dances, “God Almighty, please look down and see my people through.” The dancers faded together and the spirit of joy and piece flowed through the pavilion via the spiraling actions of the dancers.
This was a play. Two dancers spoke using their bodies as the other nine reacted, taking and giving the attention. As quickly as a foot could step, the lighting changed and cords from a piano strummed out of the Chandler audio systems. The crowd loved it and cheered constantly, some standing, some screaming, all smiling as the eleven bowed, first together, then one by one, then together again in traditional Ailey fashion.
Nineteen dancers entered the stage as, “the illusion of beauty” came through the speakers. They stood arrayed, arching as the seating in the pavilion’s theater style seating did, standing shoulder to shoulder. They were dressed as men in black or 20’s era gangsters in black suits and unified movements. Their white shirts contrasting in the, now plain, lighting.
These were dancers that sung. They all stood, one fell. All were unified, save another, he stood on the chair. He was different than the one that fell. Shoes and jackets where thrown to the center of the stage. Next, their pants were ripped off when it was time to play, dramatically, simultaneously and thrown to the center of the stage creating a pile of shoes and clothing.
The one that fell did not remove any of his clothing. “He is rebelling against society,” a woman whispered to a friend in a row behind me during a quiet moment. This dance was about our regulated society and its unified steps. The rebellion of clothing left the dancers in grey, military style underwear. They danced to a ticking clock. The people who filled the pavilion seemed to understand the meanings of the syncopated, underwear movements. The dance ended with two dancers whose intertwined movements were sexually suggestive and yet innocent and beautiful at the same time.
The dancers reemerged to techno music and ‘Smooth Criminal’ suits. They surrounded the crowd leaping off the stage and moving into the rows of seating. They selected members of the audience and carefully guided them upon the stage. Upon the stage they began to create their own art. Together they danced, the amateurs reacting to the professional, the crowd loving both. The amateurs imitated the professional and vice versa. They cha cha’d, tangoed, did the ‘Soul Train Line’ in a remarkable interactive dance taken to the ultimate level of enjoyment. It was an experience just to watch.
The next scene followed another brief intermission. When the dancers entered, gold and brown lights rained down upon the skillful and precise movements of the dancers and more spiritual music filled the full, but eerily quiet pavilion. This was the famed “Revelations.” The finale and most popular part of the show, and the capacity crowd engulfed every part with gapped jaw and wide eye.
“Fix me Jesus,” the voice echoed from the speakers and left the crowd in awe as the dancers struck poses that were nothing short of marvelously descriptive, painting each dancer with a unique personality.
The next scene the dancers came waving fans and carrying small stools. The tan fans became their conversation. Their golden bonnets and yellow dresses swayed and spun. They gossiped with the fans talking. They argued, they fought, expressing themselves through the flutter of the wooden fans. Some fast, some slow, some jerking and with each wave that fluttered words were communicated. Each sway, facial expression and bodily movement had added meaning.
The fan’s movements along with their bodies spoke of a strong southern tradition of dignity and a rediscovered culture of regality and beauty. The backdrop was a simple circle of yellow light, surrounded by a changing wall of color blends that subtlety changed from light blue to orange-brown. This became the southern sky and as each hue filtered across the backdrop of the stage, it highlighted another color in the dancer’s wardrobe. The men wore tuxedo jackets of yellow material highlighted by browns that matched with the ladies yellow summer dresses and tightly fitting bonnets. Later, in the scene, the ladies stood upon the stools and looked down at the courteous gentlemen, fluttering their fans in mock conversation, some flirting, some demanding, some complaining.
The final curtain brought out a standing ovation and encore of the line dance filled with kicks and twirls and smiles.
“It was fantastic!” raved Diahann Carroll, who spoke to the Sentinel after the show, “It went from community to community, from Asian, to Spanish, to black. It was amazing!”
“Absolutely phenomenal from the beginning to the end,” said Gaynelle White, owner of Filthy Ragz, a clothing boutique on Slawson Ave, “I loved the scene with the guys [in red] and the whole dramatic feeling behind it. It was wonderful. I had an amazing time.”
“I really enjoyed it,” said Councilman Bernard Parks, who attended the show with his wife, “It gives you a real sense of bringing back our culture and seeing some very talented artist on the stage, not only singing but dancing. The choreography was outstanding. Each time they come to the city of Los Angeles, it’s a must see, so I recommend anyone who has that opportunity to see them, bring their kids, have them see something that is so unique that may be a once in a lifetime occurrence.”
For more information about Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, go to www.alvinailey.org.