The history of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which has proffered welcome to so broad a spectrum of dance and dancers, bears witness that Ailey was never one to put himself above consideration for others, particularly artistic colleagues.
So, in the opening two programs for the current Kennedy Center engagement celebrating the troupe's 20th anniversary, he chose to highlight a pair of fellow choreographers -- Talley Beatty Tuesday evening, and George Faison last night.
However generous the impulse, it may have been misplaced esthetically, with respect to showing the company to best advantage. The opening night program seemed out of balance; last night's even more so. The trouble is, Faison's choreography is simply too thin to support an evening's worth of concert pieces. Despite passages of genuine electricity, the program left a dominant impression of monotony and superficiality.
Faison, who was raised in Washington and received his early dance training here, was an Ailey dancer himself for three years; he went on to form his own troupe, and achieved palpable renown as the choreographer of the original Broadway production of "The Wiz."
He's a gifted costume designer, and a skilled artificer of jazz-based show dancing. In pieces such as "Gazelle," a jungle parable about the hunter becoming the hunted, and "Hobo Sapiens," a solo vignette depicting the making of an urban derelict, he at least has storytelling, moralizing and scene-setting to fall back on.
But when, as in "Suite Otis," he attempts an autonomous dance work shorn of all but incidental dramatic imagery, he's at a loss for choreographic motivation and can't seem to get beyond interminable strings of jazz-dance cliches. "Hobo Sapiens" was largely redeemed by the honesty, wit and intensity of Dudley Williams' performance, but the troupe's finest exertions in the other pieces failed to lift the pall.
Also seen was the D.C. premiere of Rael Lamb's "Butterfly," a stylistic mishmash evoking the mannerisms of Limon, Cunningham, Bejart and others, but none of the corresponding substance or thought. At one point, a female predator savors the blood of her victim -- what this or any of the other vaguely tribal goings-on had to do with the title is anybody's guess.