Saturday, May 16, 2009

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Ohio Dance Theatre, Antaeus Dance



Imagine the nerve of a Black dancer/choreographer who, in the 1950s, at the height of segregation in this country, deciding to start a company whose purpose was to tell the story of African Americans. The person? Alvin Ailey. The results? A company that in 2009 is celebrating its 50th anniversary and is on an upward curve, while other arts organizations are withering on the vine.

The works of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre range from classical ballet, to jazz, to native American dance. Though Ailey died in 1989 at the age of 58, his hand-selected successor, Judith Jamison, took over the company and has helped it thrive.

Ask any of those who gave screaming curtain call after curtain call to the company in their recent State Theatre production, co-presented by Playhouse Square and Dance Cleveland, with sponsorship by Huntington Bank, and they’ll tell you that they had just experienced a presentation of dance wonderment!

In the company’s sixth Cleveland appearance, the program included ‘REVELATIONS,’ considered by many to be the best-known and most often seen modern dance piece. The program also included excerpts from ‘BLUES SUITE,’ one of Ailey’s earliest works. Also showcased in the fourteen selection program, were a powerful rendition of ‘STREAMS,’ the engrossing ‘MARY LOU’S MASS,’ the beautifully performed, ‘HIDDEN RITES,’ the finely honed ‘NIGHT CREATURE,’ and the sensual ‘PHRASES.’

The curtain call, the stirring ‘ROCKS THE SOLE,’ was a perfect ending to an outstanding evening dance which, on opening night of the three performance stand, was thoroughly enjoyed by the near sold-out audience.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: It is going to be interesting to see what happens as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre confronts the future with the retirement of Jamison and a new, yet unannounced leader. Let’s hope that whoever is selected has the insight and creativity of the two preceding bright lights of dance.

OHIO DANCE THEATRE presents multi-leveled program

Denise Gula, the founder and artistic director of the Oberlin based Ohio Dance Theatre, is both a choreographer and a theatre person. As such, much of her dance repertoire has a dramatic, story-telling base.

In the company’s recent residency at Cleveland Public Theatre, as part of ‘DANCEWORKS 09, they presented a three-segment program. The opening piece, ‘WHEN I FALL,’ featured the talents of Janet Strukley and Brain Murphy in a well danced, dramatic piece which found the dancers in perfect harmony with the oft-changing musical sounds of Nat King Cole, James Edward Davis and Young and Heyman.

‘SPENDTHRIFT,’ which explored the beauty and power of the ocean’s water as it blows, creates foam, and swirls at the base of the shoreline, found five female dancers using their arms and bodies to move through space. A strong solo by Juliana Freude was a highlight of the classic piece which was set to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

The highlight of the program was ‘SILENT WITNESS,’ a tribute to women who are the victims of abuse. The number was inspired by an exhibit presented by Genesis House, which Gula witnessed. She states, “I found myself stunned and moved by the starkness and simplicity of the images. I wanted to make a ballet that would honor these women and help bring awareness to this disturbing social issue.”

In the main, Gula succeeds. There was live dancing by a solo performer, while simultaneously a video showed her falling in love, and the unfolding tumult and brutal relationship which had strong visual and emotional overtones. The music, the illusions of woman, man, children in conflict, and the pain was clearly depicted in the dance and movements of Janet Strukley and Kyle Primous.

Unfortunately, the piece become overly long and redundant by the addition of a music video which was seemingly tacked onto the ending. The dance, sans music video, ended on high emotion. No more was needed. The video, which introduced new people and another media, was overkill and weakened the overall effect.

The lack of a curtain call was a creative touch as it left the audience fidgeting uncomfortably in the strong emotions of the piece, encouraged to exit at their own pace, with the images lingering in their minds.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Ohio Dance Theatre’s DANCEWORKS O9’ performance was well received. Gula’s ability to combine dance and theatre, gives the company a hands-up over other groups who often fail in telling stories which require more than dance proficiency.


‘MOLT,’ Antaeus Dance’s offering at the recent Cleveland Public Theatre’s ‘DANCEWORKS 09, failed to ignite the audience. This selection, which was overly long, was often repetitious. How many ways and times can dancers arrange and rearranged a pile of straw? Yes, the company proposes to have “a sense of connecting to earth,” but what about this piece, beyond the straw, was earth connecting?

Choreographer Joan Meggitt states in the program that, “The group [those not dancing] acts as a mirror to the soloist’s interior life, with the soloist reflecting upon what the group, in turn, reflects back to her.” Oh, if only that were true. That may have been her intent, but it wasn’t what was visually presented.

The dancers, though they tried, were not always in sync. They needed much more work, and a honing of their skills by a purposeful choreographer.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Joan Meggitt and the Antaeus Dance Company disappointed in their ‘DANCEWORKS ‘09’ presentation. Abstract descriptions and the lack of a clear mission do no a good dance program make!