Ailey II

I didn’t really know what to expect of the performance last night by Ailey II at the Rialto Center. I knew that Spelman professor and local choreographer Juel D. Lane had a piece in the show, but I otherwise didn’t know who else was programmed. It’s a junior company for developing dancers, so I didn’t expect the level of performance that I’ve seen come from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company, but I was pretty sure that it would be an enjoyable show. I had some complaints, but I wasn’t disappointed at all.

Lane’s “Touch & Agree” was a decent start to the program. Choreographically, it had its roots in African folk dance and contemporary hip-hop social dance. Consisting of four scenes, it explored romantic relationships forming, having trouble, and falling apart with a focus on the individual moreso than the relationship itself. The first scene, “Waiting,” was the strongest: it featured two men going back and forth, beginning kind of flirty, having some difficulties, breaking apart and coming back together. It was effective at being sweet, clever, and painful. One of the couple finally seems to have fallen out of love or, at least, has reservations about the other. The second scene “Cookie Jar” seemed to paint with broader strokes, with a lot more people involved in a variety of different relationship situations. This segued into an emotional solo for one of the people from one of the relationships, “Transparent.” The final scene, “Legendary” seemed like Lane was having a hard time figuring out how to end the work. It appeared to be a club scene, with the entire company dancing more social-dance moves, and a couple of the couples sort of resolving their stories walking through the scene. The big-show-stopper-club-scene-ness of the scene came out as primary rather than the conclusions of the stories from the previous scenes. Overall, it was enjoyable but seemed to start with a clear idea and focus but then devolve, as though “Waiting” was a stand-alone work that was then expanded to fill the requirements of the commission. I think that I liked observing Lane’s choreographic style more than I liked watching its application in the later scenes, if that makes sense.

Next up was “Breaking Point” by Renee I. McDonald. Ailey’s website says that it “is an intense depiction of the fight for our heart’s desire. Whether it is love, friendship, forgiveness, or a secret longing – these things can take us to our limit.” To me, it looked like an over-the-top choreographed adaptation of either a horror video game or a game of Vampire: The Masquerade or something. The music by Audiomachine was insanely dramatic and the choreography really looked to me like heroes fighting groups of monsters. At first I thought that it was just too cheesy and over the top but, after I got over my pompous self, I enjoyed it as a grand, if absurd, spectacle. Honestly, I think that this may be a genre that choreographers and ballet companies may want to develop: I’m not much of a gamer, but I have watched movies based on games with friends and they tend to be terrible. However, the stripped-down storytelling structure of narrative dance coupled with the lack of dialog in favor of kinetic energy and physical expressivity of the art form may serve the simple narratives of video games much better than the more complex storytelling structure of film. Plus, it may expand the audience for concert dance the way that video-game symphonies do for classical music.

Ailey II, though good, isn’t on the same level of the Ailey American and this was most apparent with their performance of Ailey’s “Revelations” (the endowment fund for the touring of which seems to also be usable for Ailey II). It wasn’t that they performed poorly, mind you, but that it was obvious that there weren’t people on stage who had been dancing the work for the past decade or so. Sadly, the company members looked a little worse in the piece due to the fact that they skimped on the budget for costumes. Articles of clothing such as vests and dresses were not as well tailored for the dancers of Ailey II as they tend to be for the main company, which obscured some of the articulation of the movements, particularly in the finale, “Rocka My Soul.” Drawbacks aside, it was still Ailey’s choreography and the dancers of Ailey II are good dancers, so it was still a very good piece of the program.

The show as a whole was better than my writeup may make it seem. Really, Ailey II is a company of strong and skilled, if still developing, dancers and each of the three works on the program was a pleasure to watch. Overall, it was an enjoyable evening of dance.

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