Posted in Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, dance, George Balanchine, Isadora Duncan, Jose Limon Dance Company, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, modern American dance, modern dance, Paul Taylor American Modern Dance, Paul Taylor Dance Company

The dance goes on

Parisa Khobdeh Dance Company
Photos by Whitney Browne and Francisco Graciano

Modern dance, like modern painting, or architecture or any of the other arts afflicted with the prefacing descriptive, is only as modern as its times.

History places the origin of this genre of choreography at the turn of the last century. Those origins were reactive in nature, as an antidote as it were to “classical ballet.” The style is meant to be expressive of the inner feelings of the dancer; the expressions are free from the restrictions of structured steps. The modern dancer uses movement to reveal his/her inner soul. Today, modern dance is some 100 years old, and yet it is still expected to emote and move with all the flexibility of a youngster.

The style represented by the pioneers of the form has come to be codified. Its spontaneity is no longer its main vision or purpose. Dance may be a step in time, a fleeting movement, quick and quickly forgotten, but we keep records of its progress nonetheless.

Many of those pioneers are no longer with us; some have left behind active companies to carry on their legacy. Their companies carry their name as a banner; it is a reminder that the master who founded the troupe set the style for it. Just as we recall the steps of the waltz or the cha cha or the fox trot, the choreography that underpins Martha Graham‘s or Merce Cunningham‘s endowment can be notated and remembered. Dancers who know the steps pass on this knowledge f or future generations; there are videotapes of works by Paul Taylor, Jose Limon. even Isadora Duncan extant. The Balanchine style of ballet is preserved and inherited in much the same way.

Then what happens to the dancers who worked under the founding modern dance choreographer after s/he is gone? Their careers will change. Some will be absorbed into other groups. Others will band together to form new dance ensembles. They will turn to choreography themselves, or find star turns in other modern companies.

Paul Taylor foresaw a succession for his company, as Alvin Ailey had before him. He started presenting the works of emerging artists alongside his own several years before his death last August. He had gone so far as to rename his company Paul Taylor American Modern Dance to allow for the collaborations he incorporated into the troupe. Like Ailey, he appointed a successor, Michael Novak, from within the ranks of the company. For 3 weeks this fall, October 17 through November 20, the company will honor Taylor in its Lincoln Center Season; the dancers, who can’t seem to settle on PTDC or the more inclusive moniker of PTAMD, will present 10 of Taylor’s masterpieces alongside commissioned works by Kyle Abraham and L.C. premieres by guest resident choreographers Pam Tanowitz and Margie Gillis.

His alumni remain loyal to the company. Some also have seen fit to test their wings with other projects. Two PTDC alumni,  Laura Halzack and Michael Trusnovec join current PTDC dancer Michelle Fleet and film exec  VJ Carbone in bringing the Asbury Park Dance Festival to inaugurate on September 14th. Another Paul Taylor dancer’s Parisa Khobdeh Dance Company, for instance, has just completed its premiere outing with a piece called Nevertheless, which will also be at the Dumbo Dance Festival on the 12-13 of October. Khobdeh will be dancing in the upcomng PTAMD season, but she is forging a place for women-centric dance works with her own company.

In a way, we can consider this kind of after-life of dance company members to be part of the legacy of the masters who founded the great modern dance movement.

Posted in Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, classic Ailey, dance, modern American dance, Paul Taylor, Revelations

It’s Ailey Season In The City

Dance is a sort of go-to during the holidays. For some of us New Yorkers, it’s Ailey Season.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, at New York City Center through December 30th, is a sort of alt-Nutrcracker– not that there is anything wrong with the profusion of Nutcrackers around town.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company in “Revelations.” Photo by Manny Herhandez. 

The uplifting, “Revelations,” an Ailey-choreographed piece that has stopped the show all over the world since its creation in 1960, continues to be the crown-jewel of the AAADT.

Artisitic Director Emerita Judith Jamison in “Revelations” from the company archives.

 Going to church with Ailey is always a special privilege. At the performance we attended, the music was live, conducted by Nedra Olds-Neal, and the AAADT company was joined by Ailey II and Students of the Ailey School to make up a cast of 50.

Cast of 50 for “Revelations.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Ailey’s dancers are among those who can be entrusted to do justice to the Paul Taylor cannon. Indeed, Taylor directed them when they introduced his “Arden Court” to the repertory last season. AAADT’s style meshes well with the work.

AAADT in Paul Taylor’s “Arden Court.” Photo by Paul Kolnik.
The pomp and circumstance of the music by William Boyce has a processional grace. The dancing is at once majestic and down-to-earth. The muscularity of motion is fluid and easy. For Taylor, dance is play for adults.
AAADT’s rendering of “Arden Court” is joyful and fun. 
Robert Battle, who took over as the third Artistic Director in AAADT’s history in 2011 from Judith Jamison,
does not want his choreography to dominate the repertory. His “Takedeme” offered a brief (at just 5 minutes) but powerful and amusing addition to AAADT programming.
Yannick Lebrun makes a leap in Robert Battle’s “Takedeme” seem so easy.  Photo by Andrew Eccles.

 The score, “Speaking in Tongues II” by Sheila Chandra, scolds in jibberish. The dance is complex, based on Indian Kathak, and the dancer, Yanick Lebrun moved muscles he could not possibly have had in isolation.

The afternoon’s highlight, however, was Garth Fagan’s “From Before,” (1978) which enters AAADT repertory as a company premiere this season. Set to “Path” by Trinindadian composer, Ralph MacDonald, the dance starts out with African inflections, moves on to the Caribbean, and from there becomes jazzy. The Fagan-costumed cast in silken unitards, their bodies sleek in vivid colors. The steps are as lively as the vibrant melodies and rhythms that accompany the movement.

AAADT in Garth Fagan’s “From Before.” Photo by Paul Kolnik. 

For more information about Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and a schedule of programming, visit