Happy returns

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  April 20, 2010

As the music turns to some African drumming, the men loosen up, sinking softly into their steps and rebounds, winging their shoulders back rhythmically, a pattern common to many African dance forms. Individuals emerge from the group, but the processional feeling continues in a smooth, easy-flowing circle. The tempo and the intensity pick up until everyone is bouncing and reaching, and, with Renee Robinson leading them, they all return to their original path, bonded together now instead of alone, still on some quest that may never arrive at a destination.

Ronald Brown can make movement that’s both galvanic and visually coherent. In Dancing Spirit, he’s created a choreographic plan that evolves in unpredictable ways but builds a logic as it goes along. Given the accumulating sense of community, the almost tribal quality of how the piece was turning out, I wasn’t prepared when the dancers lined up and faced the audience at the end. Many other works in the Ailey rep wind up with some similar bid for the audience’s approval. I found out only later that Brown had dedicated the dance to Judith Jamison, who is retiring next year after two decades as company artistic director and head of the Ailey school. Maybe that explains a banal finish to an original piece.

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