Ailey Citigroup Theater, The Joan Weill Center for Dance NYC
By Deborah Searle
This April, Ailey II presented a mixed bill of modern and contemporary dance works for 11 nights at the Ailey Citigroup Theater. Audiences could choose from two programs, either Modern Moves or Contemporary Choices. On the evening on April 19 we were treated to the contemporary program which featured three distinct works; The Corner (2010) by Kyle Abraham, The Legacy of Inheritance (2011) by Stefanie Batten Bland and Shards (1988) by Donald Byrd. Each work was very different and showed the varying strengths of the company’s young dancers who are all students in Ailey’s professional dance courses.
The Corner surprised me as it had a strong street dance and hip hop flavor, as opposed to the modern dance usually displayed by Ailey dancers. It included spoken word, characterization and much fun and frivolity as the dancers became friends hanging out on what I envisioned as a street corner. It involved moments of humor, games and comradery as the dancers grooved in colorful, casual costumes. The soundtrack was a mixture of popular music and classical with funky, jazzy choreography and some slower, softer more lyrical moments. An upbeat group number at the end was entertaining. The stand out dancer for this work was Elizabeth Washington who seemed to embody her own personal groove and really suited the choreography. The other dancers, although they all executed the steps well, didn’t always embody the theme and style as Washington did.
The Legacy of Inheritance which followed was starkly different from the first work. It was much more raw and contemporary. In the intermission we could see fog being dispersed across the stage as well as a huge piece of white, light material. This intrigued me, as I wondered how the dancers were going to work with such a huge prop. To begin, the cast of dancers picked up the white material and wrapped themselves up in it as they slowly swayed. It was eerie but intoxicating. Although the movements were simple, the manipulation of the cloth, the way the light hit it, and the dancers’ commitment to creating interesting shapes were rapturing. A swimming-like scene where the dancers in lines seemed to swim on the ground in different directions was mesmerizing and unique partnering scenes involved inventive lifts and lines. Stefanie Batten Bland’s work was very interesting and it showed the dancers’ technical strengths as well as their ability to work with what could have been an overpowering prop. I thoroughly enjoyed this work. Thomas Varvaro in his first season with Ailey II was delightful to watch. He finished every movement and danced with clarity and ease.
Lastly, Shards by Donald Byrd was different again. We were hooked from the first second as the company started in a group center stage, in the spotlight. With the dancers all in royal blue, the bright costumes coupled the bright choreography perfectly. At times the music was very dramatic and the dancing matched. The dancers were able to perform simple port de bra with such dynamics to fill out the strong music and keep us entertained. The choreography was quite balletic and demanding. It involved much batterie, battements to second, penchée on relevé and some flinging but controlled movement. A pas de deux by dancers Fana Tesfagiorgis and Colin Heyward showed Fana’s flexibility and strength. A solo by her later in the program cemented her as a stunning dancer. Anne O’Donnell, in her first year with Ailey II, was stunning in this work. She has lovely lines and strong ballet training.
Contemporary Choices by Ailey II was a dynamic program that showed the young dancers’ versatility. It is wonderful to see these budding young stars have the opportunity to present such works to a large and appreciative audience.
Top photo: Fana Tesfagiorgis in Troy Powell’s Reference Point. Photo by Eduardo Patino, NYC.