The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s kid sibling, Ailey II, is more than just a farm team to supply the parent company with fresh blood now and then. Led by Sylvia Waters, with Troy Powell as associate artistic director, its 12 members (former fellowship students at the Ailey School) can tour where the big, expensive AADC can’t venture. This year, the young pros have already played 18 U.S. cities as well as dates in the U.K.
Ailey II, like AADC, has a double mandate. Waters has to find the best and most suitable choreography she can, while keeping in mind that the company must also honor its roots and its profile as an African-American ensemble. Donald Byrd’s Shards, although created for the AADC in 1988, could be performed by a company with any sort of national or racial makeup. Closing Ailey II’s Program A at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, it challenges the dancers with passages of lightning-quick steps, pirouettes, high leg extensions, and classical partnering. The women wear fluffy blue not-quite-tutus, with variously colored ruffles underneath, and the men vault about in blue velvet pants and sleeveless blue shirts. But Mio Morales’s score is loud and forceful, and the passages of barefoot ballet mingle with less decorous steps and saucy flicks of the hip. The dancers strike carefully balanced positions, then pull themselves askew.
Byrd makes his nod to history. Shards starts with the performers clustered in a V (as in the beginning of Ailey’s beloved Revelations) and in unison, slowly, reverently opening their arms. Then they break into a bouquet of quick movements, each person different from the others. Although the driving, biting pace doesn’t let up, the choreography is judiciously crafted to provide variety and let us focus on individuals or small groups. Long-limbed Jacqueline Green is a knockout in ballet maneuvers with Collin Heyward. If legs could kill. . . .
Kyle Abraham, a smart, hip young choreographer who’s on a roll these days, made The Corner for Ailey II in 2010. Although this New York premiere doesn’t seem as personal to him as pieces he has made for himself and his own group, it could almost be about Ailey II. The music is eclectic: rapper Common’s “The Corner,” two Chopin piano pieces, and two Donny Hathaway songs. The dancers, in bright street clothes by Elena Comendador, gather in groups and chat or argue, call out to one another, swagger in and size up the situation. A man’s back hurts. A woman suddenly walks as if she’s her grandma. A few folks hunker briefly downstage as if to shoot dice.
Stereotypes? Yes, in a way, but they ring true, and throughout, the vibrant cast members perform as if dancing stood for their life’s work and their outlet for passion (even though there’s a loving duet for Kelly Robotham and Renaldo Gardner). They slide from “behavior” into juicy movement with the ease of someone slipping out of bed into a dressing gown. Abraham’s resilient phrases eat up space, roll down to the floor and back up again, making the dancers look powerfully soft, catlike in their ease.
The two large-group pieces on Program A are balanced by a quartet and a solo. Proximity (2009), by Carlos dos Santos, suggests that it’s going to tell you more about the four people onstage than it actually does. At the outset, they’re lined up at the back of the stage—each on a square area lit individually by Stacey Boggs. A recorded piano growls out notes, then erupts into a kitten-on-the-keys flurry (the two music selections are by Tania Leon and Paul Lansky). Each dancer makes a brief statement in movement, then expands on these, and checks the others out. Yusaku Komori is a bouncy athlete with martial-arts skills; Sarah Daley, sweet and gently sassy, is pleased when he kneels and kisses her hand; Brittany Engel-Adams has a spiky, worried air; and Solomon Dumas is a shy, mild-mannered hunk.
It’s never clear what these four people’s proximity to one another is leading to. At times, they stagger, apparently disoriented; attempting to return to their places, they don’t seem sure that they’ve found the right ones. The choreography feels incomplete, but it does us the favor of introducing us to four fine, interesting performers. And the whole point of Doscongio, a 1998 solo by Robert Moses, set to a Chopin cello sonata, is to show off a male dancer as a virtuoso and a wily individual. Gardner excellently manages its mélange of balletic steps, along with ripplings of his torso, fluttering hands, and the odd sly gesture (such as a “whassup?” shrug). This is not a dance about moderation. It’s stuffed with steps and goes on for quite a long time without letup. But, hey, you got dancers like this? Audiences love seeing them go for broke.