Last night's rotten weather did little to dampen the spirits of the celebrity-sprinkled audience that cheered the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater as it opened a four-night engagement at the Mechanic Theatre.
The three works presented by the popular company were prefaced with a ceremony honoring the troupe's artistic director, dance legend Judith Jamison.
Opening night's program included a revival, "District Storyville," by Donald McKayle; a world premiere, "Dance at the Gym," by Donald Byrd; and the company's signature work, "Revelations." All three demonstrated the multifaceted versatility of this company and the considerable technical prowess of the
"Dance at the Gym," performed with hypercharged abandon to the adrenalin pulse of music by Mio Morales, wonderfully captured teen-age angst. Four women and four men -- Karine Plantadit, Deborah Manning, Elizabeth Roxas, Dana Hash, Andre Tyson, Desmond Richardson, Dwight Rhoden and Antonio Carlos Scott -- created a raw urban feel with MTV-style movements that vacillated between overdrive and slow motion.
Mr. Byrd's expert choreographic athleticism, plus his savvy feel for space, finely re-created a place where despite the immediacy of the music, tradition prevailed -- the women on one side of the room, the men on the other. The sexes form cliques, they eyeball, then warily circle, only to hold each other at arm's length. Suddenly, they are all over each other, slow dancing.
The dancers' crisp, isolated movements resonated through their bodies like the stutterings of a tongue-tied teen, yet their postures were defiant. Mr. Byrd's choreography shows this company's best moves with sinuous arches, impossible extensions and lifts that snapped the audience to attention with generous applause.
The evening opened with "District Storyville," a glimpse into the infamous New Orleans neighborhood, enhanced by the music of Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, traditional music and an original score by Dorothea Freitag.
Here the dancers strut their stuff, and Mr. McKayle's work, while a bit dated, is nevertheless fun for dancers and audience alike. Dancer Raquelle Chavis is the countess who imperiously instructs her "filles de joie" in all the tricks of the trade. Ms. Chavis is wonderful, and her charges -- Sarita Allen, Marilyn Banks and Karine Plantadit -- at first take her instructions reluctantly but eventually get into the proper spirit.
Highlights of the work included sections subtitled "An Entertainment," an old-fashioned striptease danced by Ms. Plantadit; "The Crave," a zealous romp on an oversized bed with Ms. Banks and Wesley Johnson III bouncing with glee; and "Spasm Band," a down-home rhythmic expedition with washboards, bottles, stomps and claps.
But it wouldn't have been opening night without "Revelations," and the company once more did not disappoint a cheering audience.