Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
One has to give Alvin Ailey's American Dance Theater high marks for enterprise. In the company's current week-long engagement at the Kennedy Center Opera House, the programs are fairly inundated, with new material.
Adventure, however, means risk, and risk means with some, lose some - nobody can expect to have a perfect track record in this respect. And sometimes, it's not easy to tote up the score.
Wednesday night, for example, there was "Coverage," a solo created by Rudy Perez in 1970 and, as danced by Clive Thompson, presented here by the Ailey troupe for the first time ever. It's a challenging, spare, original opus, not quite a masterpiece, perhaps, but a very compelling choreographic vision.
Thursday night came the world premiere of Jennifer Muller's "Crossword," a large, lengthy group work.
Superficial and gimmicky, it's bubble gum choreography really, disposable candy that puffs itself up into a thin balloon and eventually splatters all over the place.
The irony of the situation was the public reaction. Ailey hasn't prepared his audiences for anything like the Perez, and though Thompson got a good (and well-earned) hand, there was also much puzzlement, some titters, even a few tenatine boos. "Crossword," on the other hand, was greeted like a smasheroo, with prolonged bravos and a renewed cheer for Muller when she came out on stage with the cast. No one ever said, of course, that artistic and popular success must always intersect, but it isn't often one runs into such stark polarities on adjacent nights.
Perez made his start as a choreographer in the mid-'60s with the Judson Dance Theater, and his work has continued to retain some of the refractory bold spirit of that rebellious period. His dances have a notably unacademic look. Much of the movement is drawn from the pedestrian activity of daily life. But Perez, who is an exceptionally forceful presence on stage in his own erson, has a way of showing us these movements that digs below appearances. The tilt of a head, the sudden fall of a heel become sharply etched events, with all kinds of conceptual and emotional echoes. Perez has a marvelous feeling for the "personality" of movement.
In "Coverage," for example, a man dressed in coveralls and a construction worker's hard-hat marks off a large square with red tape on the stage floor. Within it he moves about in sundry modes - walking, marching, robotic strutting. He totters along one edge of the tape as if it were a tightrope. He doffs the hat and coveralls, and goes into an athlete's jogging and balletic exercises.
The piece contains some obvious literal satire, having to do with macho patriotism, for one thing. But the sphere of suggested meanings is much broader - the idea, for instance, that men only feel secure enough to be themselves within well-defined enclosures like a home, or an office, or a uniform, and that these borders influence our identities within them. The work is elusive, to be sure - a little too elusive for comfort - but the imagery is unfailingly intriguing. Thompson's performance was excellent. Though he lacked some of Perez' own rugged precision, he was admirably faithful to the spirit of the work.
A gaint crossword puzzle, as the title hints, is the setting (by Randy Barcelo) for the Muller, and it's the most attractive thing about it. The dancers, dressed in tied shirts and shorts, have letters on their backs, enabling them to line up into words now and then. Otherwise, the piece consists of nonstop, shapeless and irritatingly facetious horseplay, accompanied by a shrill, insane rock score by Burt Alcantara.