Monday, June 2, 2008

Alvin Ailey takes a step back in time

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater leaps from its Manhattan home to a guest run at BAM, starting Tuesday. It's a transition that feels like a homecoming, but with new family members.

The special engagement, presented by the Joyce Theater, marks the return of Ailey to the Brooklyn Academy of Music after 35 years.

Early in its history, the company enjoyed a brief residence at BAM alongside Paul Taylor and Merce Cunningham. It was there that pieces such as "Masekela Langage" had their first New York performances with the promising new dancer Judith Jamison, now the company's artistic director.

"'Masekela' was the major part of the performance because it is not an easy ballet in terms of subject matter," says Jamison. "Alvin was very interested in the human condition, and at that time, of course, the human condition in South Africa was apartheid, and deeply so."

The rarely seen piece appears in "Classic Ailey," one of two programs put together for the BAM run, which also includes the signature "Revelations."

Ailey's depiction of a stifling summer evening in a South African bar, "Masekela" simmers with quiet rage and an impending sense of violence that is finally carried out.

"You know Mr. Ailey didn't do a step without a reason, and he really was propelled to do this work," says Jamison.

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