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Alvin Ailey celebrates 45th year with a new work

'Heart Song' serves up soulful spirituality set to a Moroccan beat
/ Source: The Associated Press

Alvin Ailey dancers always excite, even when the choreography seems to fall into familiar categories.The silky, muscled movers earned their usual foot-stomping cheers as the company, celebrating its 45th year, presented the world premiere of Alonzo King’s “Heart Song” at City Center.(And, yes, does it need to be said, they also performed “Revelations,” Ailey’s 1960 signature piece that is by now as much about the audience’s predetermined rapture as it is about the dance itself.)Sandwiched between two older pieces, Elisa Monte’s 1979 “Treading” duet and “Revelations,” “Heart Song” served up a string of barely connected bijoux set to original Moroccan music.Attitudes shook hands with African-rooted movement in a traditional Ailey ballet blend that emphasized the dancers’ confident charms. There was much to admire here, even if the soulful spirituality felt a bit yesterday.In “La ilaha illa Allah,” Linda Celeste Sims was simultaneously partnered by Amos J. Machanic, Jr., and Clyde Archer. As she strained and wound herself around their limbs, she seemed like a wild thing you capture for a moment, constantly shifting your hands to create a flexible but circumscribed world.In the last section, “Allah Mulana Mulana,” the company snaked around and off the stage in a loose conga line. As the curtain fell, two dancers raised their arms and languorously backpedaled, smiling, moving just to move.The spare, earthy lyrics and melodies were well suited to Robert Rosenwasser’s set and costumes, which included much bare skin and brief little puffs of skirts inset with tiny blue lights. But too bad the urge to incorporate mist wasn’t resisted.Friday evening’s performance began with Ronald K. Brown’s delightful “Serving Nia,” an easy riff on the line between serving and leading. “Nia” means purpose in Swahili, but also took human form in dancer Cheryl Rowley-Gaskins, who blended in with the boys at least as often as she moved to the fore.Typical of Brown, the uptempo music and dancing moved fluidly between Motherland and New World forms. Dancers spun out of sharp diagonals, torsos undulated and palms raised, as aggressive showmanship simmered down into a deeper, natural sense of community.“Treading,” Monte’s earliest choreographic work, was less satisfying. Danced by Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell and Clifton Brown and set to Steve Reich’s much-choreographed “Eighteen Musicians,” the work was a sensual but heatless exploration of self that failed to yield any sense of discovery.Alvin Ailey performs at City Center through Jan. 4.