Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer
Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013, 3:01 AM
Robert Battle programmed Paul Taylor’s 1981 masterpiece Arden Court as the opening note on Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s three-night run at the Merriam Theater, which began Wednesday. Even with the antique beauty of William Boyce’s baroque music, the company breathed new life into Taylor’s work, and into the closer, Ailey’s 1960 classic Revelations.
The six men in Revelations danced like tightly coiled springs rapidly released, or, in static moments, X’d their bodies stiffly to be turned hands-over-heels by one another; one man rolled across the floor as the curtain dropped.
Linda Celeste Sims, Rachael McLaren, and Alicia Graf Mack were ethereal ballerinas wafting over the men’s shoulders, but, as with most Taylor works, the men had the edge.
In Battle’s 1999 Takademe, Jamar Roberts charmed in red ruched pants by Missoni, wriggling his way through multiple personality changes to fit Sheila Chandra’s vocalizations.
The most sensational piece was the local premiere of Philadelphia’s own Rennie Harris’ Home, to a terrific musical arrangement by Raphael Xavier, another homie and a former dancer with Harris’ Puremovement.
Philadanco alumna Hope Boykin stood out in this hot number, which featured sizzling performances by the 14-member cast, led by the matchless Matthew Rushing. Xavier used New York house DJ Dennis Ferrer’s “Deep, Deep Where the Sun Don’t Shine” as an anthem, and its techno beat gave Harris a multiplicity of choreographic possibilities. With the cast huddled together as if for protection, Rushing broke out and began the fast, fancy footwork and flying fingers that mark this dance throughout. Ultimately, all broke into house dancing, each sometimes in his or her own cloud of energy.
But underlying the sensational torso bending and hip rocking were the B-boy moves Harris grew up with and is justly famous for having morphed into a new genre for the stage. Here, the moves were softer, as if seen through fog – so swift the hops, sideways skips, leg crossovers; so elegant the interactions. At this soulful work’s end, Rushing gathers everyone back into the hushed huddle.
Of course, any Ailey audience would stay all night to see Revelations over and over. The praise dance never loses its punch, its beauty, its sass. It’s a classic that will last forever.