Oh, those Ailey dancers! Sleek, gorgeous, virtuosic, and charismatic—is there anything they can’t do? Artistic director Judith Jamison’s mandate seems to be to find choreography that shows them off as both athletes and individual performers, whether or not that choreography could be considered major. Camille A. Brown’s The Groove to Nobody’s Business is as friskily trivial as Frederick Earl Mosley’s Saddle Up! (reviewed in the Voice two weeks ago). It, too, is as much about behavior as it is about dancing, although any piece that starts with Matthew Rushing whipping himself through space with nimble precision to the voice of Ray Charles singing “Lonely Avenue” gets me grinning happily.
Against J. Wiese’s handsome monochromatic cityscape, nine dancers in colorful street clothes by Carolyn Meckha Cherry strut, digging their feet into the floor. They congregate around a subway-platform bench. Guillermo Asca and Linda Celeste Sims are squabbling lovers. Glenn Allen Sims wants to read his newspaper in peace. Renée Robinson consults a map. Six of them wait for that train that never seems to be coming, occasionally bursting into juicily rhythmic dance steps, but more often jockeying for position and acting out annoyance. When the train arrives and the dancers occupy the same row of seats or strap-hang, they don’t seem any more constrained in their use of space than they were in the station. The piece hustles along, giving us more and more of what we’ve already seen.
Robert Battle’s 2005 duet, Unfold (new to the Ailey), skews and polishes the dancers’ physical skills in interestingly peculiar ways. When the curtain goes up, Leontyne Price’s recorded voice is singing “Depuis le Jour” from Gustave Charpentier’s opera Louise. The ravishing tones are pouring down around the slight figure of Linda Celeste Sims. Clad in a long, silky orange gown by Jon Taylor, caught in a beam of Lynda Erbs’s lighting, she’s standing arched drastically backward, yet also twisted to one side, one of her arms hanging limply. While she remains immobile in this position, Clifton Brown paces at the back. She sinks to the floor. Once he sees her and approaches, his first impulse is to grasp her ankle and pull her along.
This is a very strange duet. The two often seem more focused on something on the horizon than on each other, even though they grab hands in an ice-skating hold to race around together, and touch in more manipulative ways. Something has damaged them. Brown’s knees buckle. At one point, Sims, supine and angled oddly, reaches helplessly toward him. They end as they began, the magnificent Sims’s unreal flexibility a metaphor for something much more disturbing.