The twelve members of Ailey II, the “second company” of the massive Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater organization, are all superb young dancers, with powerful jumps, leg extensions that never quit, and innate theatricality that would stand them in good stead on a Broadway stage. To spend an evening with them — especially at the All New program of their current season — is to watch artists on the cusp of adulthood try to bear the burdens of relationships. Sometimes they do this successfully, merging strength and softness, but sometimes ideas and emotions get lost in a frenzy of physical activity and overbearing music. Directed by Troy Powell, the ensemble gives its all all the time, which may not be entirely necessary.
The evening’s triumph is the first part of Juel D. Lane’s Touch & Agree, a mystifying title for a work performed to five different musical selections, including one written by the choreographer. Called “Waiting,” and set to a recording of Sam Cooke singing “You Send Me,” the section reveals two young men sharing the stage with two straight chairs and a coat tree. In Jarrod Barnes’s beige and orange costumes, Christopher R. Wilson and Marcus Williams engage in an upbeat, enthusiastic love duet — oh, call it a lust duet — until Williams suddenly pulls the plug and the encounter turns sad and even hostile. They start fighting, but somehow you know there’s going to be great makeup sex, and sure enough, they merge into a slow dance.
Two women replace them onstage, caressing each other in silence but then making power plays. More dancers enter, all in the same costume family, and writhe to loud, percussive sounds; the lights flash, and the performers toss one another around. Yazzmeen Laidler flings her long braids in a passionate solo to a song called “Focus” (“Baby, can you focus on me?”), which seems to exemplify my problem with the rest of the program: These young artists exude lots of attitude, but their whole intent seems to be getting attention, and that’s not enough, once they have it, to keep us engaged.
But hey: The crowd goes wild, and Lane is a choreographer to watch. Renee I. McDonald, a Jamaican woman, also exploits the fabulous technical skill of the ensemble, which left me thinking that just because they can do all this great stuff doesn’t mean they have to. Her Breaking Point, the program’s closer, is performed to frantic music samples collated by Audiomachine, apparently a provider of music for movie trailers and advertisements, which explains a lot of the high-octane, violent emotion that roils the piece. It’s all climax, sounding like a fusion of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Taylor S. Barnett’s gorgeous blue-and-black leotards contribute greatly to the impact of the work, as does Brandon Stirling Baker’s smoky lighting. Even in the work’s tender moments there’s an undercurrent of frenzy, as when the whole company enters on half-toe, padding quietly into the space; you just know that any second another gorgeous long leg will shoot out into the air. They jump and flail. The movement’s a fusion of house and voguing, and again the packed house jumps to its feet.
Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Road to One, another mystifying title (it’s performed to four different sound selections), opens the All New bill, one of two alternating through the season. It’s full of incident but does not cohere. The members of Ailey II get two-year contracts, at the end of which they either move into Ailey’s main company or find other work, sometimes on Broadway. I look forward to seeing them again in the hands of more restrained choreographers, where their acting chops and fine technique can be more subtly appreciated.