Saturday, March 19, 2011

On the Hunt at the Queen E

The real revelation of last night's performance by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Queen E, visiting the city for the first time in 18 years as guests of Ballet BC, was incoming Artistic Director Robert Battle's The Hunt (2001).

An ensemble work for six male dancers, the piece is set to a pounding afrobeat score by the French industrial percussion band Les Tambours du Bronx. Clad only in flowing, red-satin lined brown skirts, the dancers throw themselves into Battle's propulsive, muscular movement, manically spinning and jumping and stomping and chasing and encircling as they alternate between predator and prey. Either way, they move seamlessly as a group, and one of the most thrilling aspects of the choreography is the close bodily proximity Battle is able to maintain between his posse of dancers even as they drive across the stage at breathtaking speeds. To this end, there is also, amidst all this frenzy, some surprisingly tender partnering on display, including quasi-waltz phrases, with the dancers' bodies leaning into and enfolding one another, spent with exhaustion and eroticism in equal measure.

Clearly part of the hunt here is for new patterns and rituals of male bonding. Indeed, coming after Ailey's Cry--his 1971 ode to Black womanhood that was originally a single long solo for outgoing Artistic Director Judith Jamison, but has since been reworked for three female dancers--The Hunt rendered even more complex and unstable the representations of Black masculinity on offer in Ailey's work. How, for example, to read the two courtier figures in Memoria (1979), which was first up on the program and, I must say, as showing something of its age? Or what of the male trio in the "Sinner Man" sequence of Ailey's signature Revelations (1960), which closed the performance and, as one would expect, brought down the house? It was hard for me not to read the former as a couple and the latter as perhaps repenting sins of the male flesh that Ailey felt couldn't explicitly be named. Just as his own sexuality and death from AIDS still appears a taboo topic within the company mythology.

At any rate, Battle seems prepared to open up the company's repertoire to new interpretations and new choreographic influences, even as he maintains the spiritual (in all senses of that word) ties to tradition. More of his work is on display in the matinee performance today, alongside that of fellow contemporary choreographers Christopher Huggins and Ron Brown.


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