Pulsing With Life

To close out their week of performances at the David H. Koch Theater in Lincoln Center, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater presented a program on Sunday, June 16 that featured new works and old favorites: Ronald K. Brown’s Four Corners, which had its world premiere earlier in the week; Kylián’s always interesting Petite Mort; and the classic Revelations, which continues to be a crowd favorite (and rightly so). 

Brown’s new Four Corners begins with a relatively dark stage, and a single dancer slowly entering in a backward line, marked by a stream of light (the lighting is designed by Al Crawford). As the stage brightens, the dance picks up very quickly, and the movements of all 11 dancers are closely connected to the music, their entire bodies pulsing to the heavy, rhythmic beat. With body rolls and contractions that seem to utilize every muscle in the back and chest, their bodies act as instruments through which the music can flow. In many moments, the dancers also isolate their hips, shoulders, or torsos, moving different parts of the body to the beat. In general, the movement seems to draw from many possible dance vocabularies and traditions, such as jazz, hip-hop, or African dance.

The work’s rhythmic quality is also expressed through the repetition of specific movements. In one section, the dancers cross the front of the stage, entering in a line. Each dancer enters, moving in place from side to side, and then does a barrel turn as the next dancer comes on. This sequence continues as the dancers wrap around to the back of the stage and exit in a diagonal line. There are also certain movements that act as motifs throughout the work, such as when dancers leans forward with their arms spread like curved wings, arching their backs in a contraction.

The dancers seem to throw themselves into even the smallest of movements, initiating the slightest shift of the arm or leg with their entire bodies. Because of this, the sheer power and grace of the body is emphasized with every step. There are moments when one might think it would be easy to lose control of the movement, as in some of the turns, where the dancers spin wildly in slightly uneven circles, arms and legs flying out at different angles. But it is clear that the dancers are in full control, spinning about a firm axis, and there is no doubt of the power behind each turn. Even the slower movements have a certain intensity behind them, as when a dancer leans forward in a gradual but deliberate arabesque. The striking purple costumes, designed by Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya, further this by highlighting and allowing freedom of movement: the women wear flowing dresses, while the men wear loose pants and sleeveless tops.

For most of the work, the dancing is high-energy and in constant motion, with few moments of stillness. As a viewer, one begins to feel the beat within one’s own body, as well as the urge to tap one’s foot along with it. Within the many patterns and sequences that happen on stage, the interactions between dancers often seem slightly indirect. Sometimes, dancers raise their arms almost as if holding an invisible partner, or they cross paths onstage without really touching or seeming to acknowledge one another. Sometimes, groups of dancers create larger shapes, as when they all enter in a line, or when several dancers form a circle. There is only one place, towards the beginning of the work, when a more solid connection is made, and two dancers fully embrace with an intensity that is different from that punctuating much of the other movement. The moment is fleeting, but it is almost enough to briefly “pause” the energetic nature of the rest of the dance, before plunging back into the pulsing rhythm.

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