Cal Performances presents
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley
March 29th, 2016
On Tuesday night, a bi-coastal artistic bond started yet another chapter – the annual Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater residency at Cal Performances. Three different programs will grace the Zellerbach stage over the next five days, bringing a host of West Coast premieres and returning favorites. A quadruple bill, Program A featured two of these premieres, Ronald K. Brown’s Open Door and Artistic Director Robert Battle’s Awakening, alongside Judith Jamison’s A Case of You (2004) and of course Ailey’s Revelations (1960).
Brown’s Open Door began as a soloist swept onto the stage from the wings – arms pushing through the air, legs swirling in attitude turns. A second soloist followed appropriating some of these first motifs, yet developing them further as well as adding new ideas. From there, a variety of solos, duets, quintets and full cast statements emerged - pulsating hips, extended arms and percussive, rhythmic footwork. A sexy and exciting ensemble dance, Open Door invites bodies to take and sculpt the space around them in a joyful expression of physicality. But there’s something else happening too; an important structural component that not only challenges expectations but also reveals a conceptual fiber. Open Door has a cast of ten, five women and five men. The ensemble definitely interacted with each other throughout the piece – a sense of camaraderie was present; an enjoyment and acknowledgement of each other read clearly. But there was no partnering, no lifts, hardly any touching, only a few assisted turns towards the end. Everyone told their own story. It was striking and beautiful to see these ten narratives of strength and character unfold simultaneously. With Open Door, Brown painted a picture where togetherness and individualism could coincide.
Both of the West Coast premieres opened with entrances from the downstage right wing. Though as the lights came up on Battle’s Awakening, it was obvious that this piece was going to be completely different than the previous one. Dancers costumed in white scrubs ran in, panicked and frenetic. As they moved through repetitive circuits and shaking motions, the cast looked frightened and suspicious, the repetition induced by their fear and speaking of a broken, yet continual cycle. While some contrast existed in this chilling environment (hands reached out in hope, a wave of turns calmed, the bodies rested for brief periods), for the most part, Awakening was deliberately sterile, stark and shaken. John Mackey’s score was peppered with fortissimo accents that punctuated the action on stage. At times, this music was hard to listen to, as was some of the choreography to watch - the visuals and the sound jarring, uncomfortable and unsettling. But that was the point. It was purposeful, and Awakening was successful in its endeavor. Battle brilliantly left Awakening on this foreboding note, unresolved and still spinning.
Next up was the most breathtaking, albeit short, dance of the evening – Jamison’s A Case of You. Performed by Jacqueline Green and Jamar Roberts, this was an emotive duet about a relationship. Not a flirtation, not an infatuation, but a deep connection of knowing and being known. Suspension and release abounded as did pure wonder. Green jumped and encircled Roberts’ waist with her legs; she leaped toward him and landed with both feet on his thighs; and their final pose was a miraculous embrace. These moments seemed to come out of nowhere with no preparation, no fanfare. And in that, we discover the fuel for A Case of You – the link between intimacy and surprise. How enduring commitments still have the capacity to awe. And how it is truly amazing to even find that rich level of connection in the first place.
The magnificent program closed with Ailey’s incomparable masterwork, Revelations – a three-part series of dances set to spirituals. There is much to love in this piece: the unison in the finale, the picturesque tableaux, the energetic performances. “Fix Me, Jesus” still remains a favorite chapter (danced by Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims), with its transcendent promenade in écarté, supported dip and sustained lay-out. Matthew Rushing’s solo in “I Wanna Be Ready” was all pull and stretch with rolling pleadings and a grand rond de jambe from arabesque to parallel 2nd. And the athleticism of the men’s trio in “Sinner Man” (Michael Jackson, Jr., Sean Aaron Carmon and Michael Francis McBride) continues to intoxicate.