Ailey Citigroup Theater, New York, NY
June 3, 2015
The power of belief in yourself and the will to survive and succeed were the themes of The Victory Dance Project’s First Anniversary Celebration at the Ailey Citigroup Theater. The evening marked not only a milestone for the company, but was also the occasion for the company’s Artist for Peace Award, presented to Renee Robinson, former Principal Dancer with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, who was the last dancer selected for the company by Ailey himself.
The real story of this sixteen-dancer company and its celebration is reflected in the life experiences of its Founding Artistic Director, Amy Jordan. Her career spans three decades of study and performances, but was cut short by serious health issues and a near fatal bus accident. She founded the company to celebrate her recovery, and to prove that the possible is possible through the power of movement. During the performance, hosted by Grant Cooper, a video documented Jordan’s injuries, treatment, recovery, and return to dance through choreography. Among others, Jordan dedicated the evening to the doctors who saved her life and rebuilt her body.
Jordan’s Big Fun was a lively introduction to the festive evening. To music by Barry Manilow, the dance was, as the title describes, eight dancers in virtually non-stop movement having tons of fun on stage. It reminded me of a television variety show opening number that is typically designed to get the audience’s blood circulating and to set the joyful mood. It is mostly large group choreography, with each dancer in the group performing the same sequences, punctuated by individual bravura combinations, like mini fireworks, to which the audience responded with repeated whoops of appreciation.
An interesting solo, Imaginarium, followed, choreographed to the song My Funny Valentine. The dance explores one person’s relationship with something or someone (it’s not clear), and is a tour de force by Florient Cador, winner of the French version of So You Think You Can Dance. As the song proceeds, Cador appears deep in thought, both apprehensive and agitated and seemingly lost, as he interacts with a chair, and wraps himself in a shirt as if preparing for a meeting. Either he’s the ‘funny valentine’ or he’s thinking of one – it doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter that he’s male – the dance would work just as well for a woman. But Cador does more than put his shirt on – he moves smoothly through the lyrical but powerful choreography that Jordan has provided, punctuated with explosive burst of energy that seem to represent great pain, or great effort to overcome that pain.
Thru the Looking Glass, which premiered in this form here, is an excerpt from a larger work and comprised of two parts. The first is a solo by Sharron Lynn, although the four dancers in the second part (Alicia Lundgren, Erin Moore, Major Nesby, and Saleem Abdullahi) wander through. Lynn appears open and happy, her dance including lovely lyrical lines interspersed with demeanor that’s somewhat worshipful. The second part is much more dramatic, and features bravura outbursts of energy from the men, and some nifty maneuvering – including a jump by one of the women into one man’s arms, after which he immediately tosses her forward, turns her around in the air, and pulls her back to him facing the opposite direction. It’s been done before by the Ailey Company, but it never ceases to draw audience hoots of wonder, as it did here. The connection between the two parts was tenuous, however; perhaps it will become more evident in the context of the full piece.
Human Revolution is a contemporary ballet in five parts, each separately titled. It was the finest piece on the program, and shows off Jordan’s choreographic abilities to the fullest. Each part is different, but the ballet overall is a uniform whole, with one segment blending into the next seamlessly to continue the thrust of the non-narrative plot.
Human Revolution also involves a prop – a black hat (actually, several of them), but unlike Twyla Tharp’s Push Comes to Shove – which it does not at all resemble – here the hat is a symbol, perhaps of a number of things, but certainly of power and powerlessness, of desire and abandonment, of heartbreak , and ultimately of redemption and self-fulfilment.
The story of sorts that carries through all five named sections (actually, I thought there were six, but who’s counting) is a relationship between one man, Christopher Jackson, and one woman, Karen Niceley. He’s not nice, but she’s devoted, or one might say addicted, to him.
Human Revolution begins with “Power,” to music attributed to Afro Celtic Sound. Five men Martell Ruffin, William Briscoe, Ryan Rankine, Cador, and Jackson, take turns in a spotlight; dance exuberantly (perhaps showing off to each other or vying for recognition as the alpha male), crawl on the floor, and, ultimately, possess these somewhat worn-looking black hats. For the next segment, “Troubles with God,” choreographed to Natural Blues by Moby and Glory Box by Portishead, Jackson and Briscoe separate from the first section, and are joined by Niceley. Eventually, Niceley’s character focuses on Jackson alone, the one who treats her with the greatest contempt.
In “Addicted,” to the song of the same name by Kelly Clarkson, five women (Lundgren, Moore, Jessica Israel, Kara Zacconi, and Magdalyn Segale) prance and preen, in red skirts, and each carrying a black scarf – perhaps a subtle symbol of her own power of attraction and semi-independent control. Niceley joins them, but Jackson, with his black hat, is in the one actually in control. Eventually he dances a heartbreaking solo with Niceley, but then abandons her and takes turns with the other women, shattering Niceley in the process.
Eventually, after “Don’t F—k with Me,” and “Lifetime,” the piece culminates with a celebration: “Soar,” to the song by Christine Aguilera, which becomes a joyous celebration of the finding of character, the ability to survive following emotional or psychological trauma, or both, as Niceley picks up the hat that Jackson had mercilessly tossed to the stage floor, and puts it atop her head like a crown.
Niceley’s character’s triumph over adversity was a fitting way to end an evening that celebrated Jordan’s triumph over adversity.