Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
The revival of Alvin Ailey's "Masekela Langage," performed by Ailey's American Dance Theater at the Kennedy Center Wednesday, waa immensely revealing about where his true strengths as a choreographer lie. This pungent, affecting work, surely ranking alongside "Revelations" as one of Ailey's finest, was commissioned by the American Dance Festival in 1969 and is based on the music of South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela.
From the moment the curtain rises on a smoky cafe setting the air is electric with dramatic tension. At the back is a suggestion of wood shulters, the floor is strewn with candlelit tables and rattan chairs, and a jukebox glows to one side. From the ceiling dangles an electric fan, a trumpet, a mirror, a poster, a tasseled chandellier (surprising, though the splendid costumes and lighting are attributed to Christina Giannini and Gilbert Hemsley, no credit is listed for decor).
Within seconds we recognize in the dancers a whole gallery of individualized characters - men who are toughs, bragagards, dandies or junkies; women who are haughty, sluttish, giddy or hard. And this awareness comes from a prologue in which the dancers just pose or saunter or stride desultorily around, smirking, glaring or scowling and giving themselves away by gesture and look.
Though no connected story is played out thereafter, each of the succeeding five dances presents a little dramatic vignette of one sort or another - there's a blistering fight in one> a testy flirtation in another and a renegade's last moments of desperation are depicted in the last, before the repeated tableau of th prologue rounds out the picture.
The point is that it is all this theatrical tension and imagery, along with music of incisive profile and tang, that sets Ailey's imagination afire. Without such stimuli as these, Ailey tends to flounder, to lose the conviction that can motivate his choreographic impulse, as Tuesday night's synthetic-looking "Hidden Rites" and "Choral Dances" demonstrated.
But give him a sufficiently specific and vivid theatrical concept, together with music of kindred qualitiies, and AIley produces choreography to match, full of distinctive, logically developed movement. "Revelations," of course - the 1960 Ailey clasic that ended Wednesday's program - is a prime example itself, the concept deriving, from the words and music of the spitituals that serve as its score. So is the solo, "Cry," a multifaceted potrait of black womanhood.
The company was dancing brilliantly Wednesday, and it was a particular pleasure to see Judith Jamieson back in the "Wading in the Water" sequence from "Revelations" that she gives such piquancy. A special huzzah too for Mari Kajiwara and Clive Thompson, whose "Fix Me Jesus" duet in the same work was nothing short of superlative.