Alvin Ailey dancers open Columbia Festival


The Columbia Festival of the Arts officially opened its 11-day affair last night with a performance from Alvin Ailey's American Dance Theater.

Opening the program of three dances was "The Stack Up," by Talley Batty. This street smart work for 17 dancers is as pumped-up as fancy foot gear. Mr. Talley's piece is populated with familiar urban characters -- "cool" dudes, street corner goof-offs, loose women and everyday people all in a whirring blend of dance styles. Indeed, each style characterizes the dancer's roles. Mr. Batty's dance is laid with dynamic and rhythmic interplay that keeps the dance moving with forceful kicks and flashy turns, even the slower middle section, featuring romantic interludes with courting couples is swallowed by the fray and the beat of city life. Mr. Batty's "Stack Up" still stacks up as an audience-pleaser.

In deep contrast to Mr. Batty's worldly vision, stands the company's artistic director and choreographer Judith Jamison's magical and spiritually attuned dance "Forgotten Time."

Both primitive and futuristic, Ms. Jamison's work is a seamless haunting stretch of fantastic images and vibrant rhythms arranged in seven sections.

Each blends artfully into the other, so that the dance becomes a magical and spiritual odyssey that is somewhat similar to "Day Two," by last year's fair favorite, Pilobolus Dance Theater in its use of primitive imagery, but Ms. Jamison has her own distinct voice that sings true and clear. The dancers begin and end in silence with a golden light that shines from the wings illuminating their crouching forms like the first light of dawn. Singly and slowly, they stand rolling their spines to an upright position and stretching forth their arms high above their heads.

At one point, Ms. Jamison arranges her dancers in the particular stance of African sculpture: feet wide apart, bent knees, arched spine and head tilted back. It is the body's posture -- the wide-set chests and open faces, as well as the dancers' stunning, impossible poses -- that draws us deeper into the maze of the dance.

Dancers Tracy Inman, Aubrey Lynch 2nd, Dwight Rhoden and Jonathan Riseling lead us through Ms. Jamison's labyrinth beautifully.

Columbia Festival of the Arts will also feature other local dancers, as well as the Garth Fagan Dancers, during its run.

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