Review: Alvin Ailey dancers vivacious and versatile 

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is finally here, rocking the sold-out seats of Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall with its vigorous choreographic holler. In six local shows presented by Cal Performances, the New York company offers three delicious, diverse programs.

Program A, on opening night as well as at matinees today and Sunday, brings back the old favorite, "Revelations." With its soulful solo "I Wanna Be Ready," gorgeously sunny "Wade in the Water" and a parade of male pirouettes "Sinner Man," the 1960 work about the African-American cultural experience in the South, still reigns as Alvin Ailey’s most widely recognized and loved piece.

Yet the company is also known for taking on dances by other choreographers, exhibiting an ability not only to interpret, but to embrace and "own" highly varied styles.

In Twyla Tharp’s "The Golden Section," the last part of her 1983 full-length ballet "The Catherine Wheel," the company puts on golden dance suits as easily as the poppy theatricality that the piece requires. Although at times the movements are too jittery and unfinished, they are compensated for by the hyper-sexual hip gyrations performed seductively by the men.

The following piece, the West Coast premiere of 2006’s "Gamelan Gardens" by Karole Armitage, is set to Lou Harrison’s "Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Javanese Gamelan," which wavers between emphasizing the strings in one part and the Oriental melody of gamelan in another. Armitage, known in the U.S. for her punk-influenced choreography in the 1980s, brings a meditative approach to the dance. The best part is the powerful, slow and dramatic pas de deux by Dwana Adiaha Smallwood and Clifton Brown. Smallwood’s exquisite extensions and Brown’s supporting strength are hypnotizing.

Even when dancing with the corps, the duo commands attention, standing out not only because of their movement, but also, strangely, because of the costumes. While Smallwood and Brown wear tight-fitting, flattering briefs, the rest of the company is clad in drab, loose-fitting pajamas. Although the costumes add a measure of wildness to the choreography, they conceal the dancers’ movements.

Performances at 2 and 8 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Sunday at Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley campus are sold out; call the box office at (510) 642-9988 for ticket availability.

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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