What a versatile group the Alvin Ailey dancers are. Ronald K Brown’s Open Door begins with a lyrical, modern-jazz solo and keeps mixing in other styles as it goes along: west African torso rolls, musical theatre, lilting mambo and invented moves, such as a downward-drilling spin. It’s great material, but Brown is less expert at making something out of it. Although the music, by Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, is vital and varied, too often the choreography settles into the pulse and resorts to formation patterns. Only the final mambo sparks into a more sparring engagement with its score and the stage space, and then the piece hits the spot.
Taylor has pushed open the cliches to reach tango’s riven heart, its crosscurrents of complicity and antagonism
Following this barefoot boogie comes the tight-heeled tango of Paul Taylor’s 1997 Piazzolla Caldera. Taylor is a veteran master of American modern dance, and this work shows why. It opens with a face-off between phalanxes of dapper suited men and silk-stockinged women – and before you know it, Taylor has pushed open the cliches to reach tango’s riven heart, its crosscurrents of complicity and antagonism. A woman arches like an aching melody; men turn away, brusque as dissonances. A couple fling phrases down like gauntlets, waltzers swirl past a lone woman like a chill wind, and drunken dances reek of both bruises and caresses. It’s a potent, sophisticated piece, as musical as it is dramatic.
As always, the evening closes with Ailey’s 1960 piece Revelations. Set to African American gospel and blues, it remains a stirring tribute to the resilient soul, the rising spirit and to Ailey himself.