Dancers: Guillermo Asca, Sarita Allen, Marilyn Banks, Don Bellamy, Roger Bellamy, Mucuy Bolles, Duane Cyrus, Linda-Denise Evans, Bernard Gaddis, Danielle Gee, Dana Hash, Tracy Inman, Lisa Johnson, Michael Joy, Vikkia Lambert, Leonard Meek, Jonathan Phelps, Toni Pierce, Karine Plantadit-Bageot, Troy Powell, Lydia Roberts, Renee Robinson, Elizabeth Roxas, Matthew Rushing, Solange Sandy, Michael Thomas, Nasha Thomas, Desiree Vlad, Evan Wiliams, Richard Witter, Dudley Williams.
Five years after the death of choreographer Alvin Ailey, his company offers a tribute in dance that, while lacking choreographic finesse, offers a heartfelt, sympathetic look at the close relationships he had with his dancers.
Judith Jamison, the longtime Ailey dancer who took the reins of the company after his death, commissioned monologist Anna Deavere Smith to work with the terps to elicit their feelings in words as well as dance.
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“Hymn,” whose title is no doubt intentionally double-edged, given Ailey’s penchant for religious ironies, is a stirring remembrance of one of the first major black choreographers through the eyes of eight members of his corps.
Jamison weaves the entire 31-dancer company into a reverential Ailey tapestry through a series of duets, trios and ensemble pieces that reflect the exuberant energy of Ailey’s work.
She borrows cleanly from Ailey’s barefooted balletic style to honor him, but the piece lacks an overall choreographic coherence. The movement is set almost nonstop to Deavere Smith’s words and Robert Ruggieri’s pounding music. There’s little that holds it together other than Ailey’s memory.
Still, it’s a fitting tribute, and one often avoided by dance companies that lose a leader, for fear of self-indulgence. Deavere Smith’s contribution lends a smooth, literal interpretation for the aud.
Looking like a telephone operator with microphone headset in place, she slides gracefully in and out of the dancers’ configurations, verbally echoing their sentiments. Her staccato style often makes it difficult to pinpoint the origin and gender of the individual tributes, but her intensity is so strong it doesn’t really matter.
For example, Dudley Williams, who joined Ailey in 1964 and is still dancing, offers through Deavere Smith a conversation he had with Ailey years earlier — ironically, in a Wiltern Theatre dressing room.
Unfortunately, Smith only appears for a few of the Ailey dates; the others will be danced to a taped voiceover, which may change the nature of the piece.
One nagging problem is that Deavere Smith appears almost too much. Occasionally, it would be preferable just to watch the dance as set to the music without the constant repetition of words, letting the dancers interpret their feelings for themselves.
The company offers boisterous renditions of two other works on the program, Ulysses Dove’s “Vespers” and Ailey’s legendary “Revelations,” which showed what the troupe can do with a truly inspired piece of choreography.