Review: Alvin Ailey Returns to Lincoln Center With a Tribute to Women

Review: Alvin Ailey Returns to Lincoln Center With a Tribute to Women

The notion that female choreographers are underrepresented at major dance companies has hit the mainstream, so much so that just about any program with the word “women” in its title is starting to feel more than merely unimaginative: It has an air of pandering.

On Wednesday night, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater continued the trend by opening its season at the David H. Koch Theater with “Celebrate Women,” featuring works by Jessica Lang, Judith Jamison and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, and concluding with “Revelations,” Alvin Ailey’s 1960 masterpiece and the company’s meal ticket. It keeps the crowds coming back (just in case an all-female choreographer program doesn’t.)

Leading off the company’s brief Lincoln Center season was Ms. Lang’s “EN,” her first work for the company and her 100th dance in total.

Ms. Lang and Robert Battle, Ailey’s artistic director, have known each other since their days at the Juilliard School. Ms. Lang’s husband, Kanji Segawa, is a member of the Ailey company and previously danced with Mr. Battle’s troupe, Battleworks Dance Company. (He was featured in “EN,” naturally.) It was a chance, you hoped, for Ms. Lang to dig beneath her usual sleek, designed surface. But while handsome, “EN,” named after a Japanese word with multiple meanings — a circle, destiny, fate or karma — fizzled out.

Many of Ms. Lang’s dances exist in specific, often spare environments — architectural investigations that often come off as more clinical than spiritual. Despite some winning performances, especially by Michael Jackson Jr., Jacquelin Harris and Chalvar Monteiro, “EN,” an exploration of time, moved the dancers across the stage like a vortex. Time certainly was passing, yet the intention beyond the choreographic patterning was hazy: Where were they going? Where did they end up?

In “EN,” the stage feels like a clock, with Mr. Jackson as its centerpiece. He spins in the middle as 12 others — the hours, ostensibly — swirl around him or form lines like a second hand sweeping across the stage. The set design, by Ms. Lang and Nicole Pearce, indicates night and day, dawn and dusk. A moon hovers above the dancers, while a larger orb, placed center stage, glows with the help of Ms. Pearce’s lighting. It first radiates a silvery-white light, but as the piece progresses, more colors are added and replaced — yellow, green, lavender — creating the effect of an eclipse.

References to time wash over the stage. When the moon, a large bulb of sorts, lowers, the dancers push it back and forth like a pendulum, and the minimalist electronic score, by Jakub Ciupinski, echoes throughout the theater like it’s ticking off moments or minutes.

“EN” does have a painterly quality: The dancers wear Bradon McDonald’s white tops and pants, with different cuts and a buttery yellow accent, and conjure brush strokes as they glide across the stage. It doesn’t seem a coincidence that they look like fencers.

Frequently, performers freeze in a position, suddenly stopping before recalibrating and regaining their pace; they also pause in groups to create sculptural formations. But most of “EN” moves at a brisk pace: It may allude to time, but it feels like an exercise in momentum.

The program also included two diametrically opposed works: “A Case of You” (2004), Ms. Jamison’s steamy portrait of a relationship, which left Jacqueline Green and Jamar Roberts in a conventional state of longing and lust; and Ms. Zollar’s more substantial “Shelter,” originally from 1988.

In this unflinching look at homelessness, a tight-knit cast of six women, their hair down and their faces bare, took on “Shelter” with a ravaged, manic power to show the audience — echoing the work’s recorded text — “it could happen to you.” This is a dance that not only opens your eyes, but also leaves an afterimage burning in them. With it, the subject of time returned, albeit unknowingly: Time has passed, and too little has changed.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Through June 17 at the David H. Koch Theater, Manhattan; 212-496-0600, alvinailey.org.

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