Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
With each return, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater reminds you of the reasons behind its unflagging popularity. This was certainly true at the Kennedy Center Opera House Tuesday night, where the troupe began its most ambitious Washington season to date for an appreciative full house.
The two Washington premieres unveiled for the opening - Donald McKayle's close to an hour-long "Blood Memories" and George Faison's "Hobo Sapiens" - will be augmented in the course of the week by four other local novelties and one world premiere. In all, we'll be seeing 13 assorted works representing seven different choreographers, including Ailey himself.
An Ailey performance is a theatrical event. It abounds in color, flair, action and polished stagecraft. The dancing goes right to the bread-basket. The Ailey dancers, with a seemingly endless reserve of energy, radiate a visceral and often erotic allure that is part of the company signature. And though there is a natural emphasis on the black heritage that is Ailey's own, the company, both in its repertory and personnel, is more reflective of the American pluralistic mix than any other existing dance organization.
No company, however, can be all things to all people. In Ailey's case, too often the company appears to have purchased ready impact and topical accessibility at the expense of choreographic substance.
Tuesday night's program illustrated both the strengths and the failings. "Blood Memories," for instance, holds the eye and skims some heights, but it also reaches far in excess of its grasp.McKayle set himself a tall order - to trace, like "Roots," the heart of black experience back through the arteries of tradition to first causes. Taking his cue from a Langston Hughes poem, he uses three great rivers, the Nile, the Mississippi and the Harlem, as unifying images. The music, by Howard Roberts, and the choreography itself draw upon sources ranging from tribal Africa and Moslem ritual to levee blues, city Jazz and contemporary "soul."
As a concept, it's admirable, and there are many passages in which McKayle has risen to the challenge. But as a dance entity, "Blood Memories" simply fails to coalesce. The symbolism is fuzzy and inconsistent, the structure unconvincing in its larger outlines. And somehow the lighting, costumes and scenery - each designed separately - rarely come together on the same track. Too frequently, the hues and shadings cause the dancers' figures to melt into the backdrop.
"Hobo Sapiens" works fine as a vehicle for the histrionic resources of Dudley Williams, who depicts various stages in the evolution of a street gypsy.But it's thin stuff even in its own Broadway terms, and you find yourself more absorbed in the Stevie Wonder and Billy Preston recordings than in the dance.