"Revelations" works. Even without the springboard of live music, and with new faces and bodies replacing some of those that shaped these gospel visions into a classic, Alvin Ailey's 22-year-old dances seem to propel themselves. So, what's new? Not much, judging by the three premieres on the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater program last night at the Kennedy Center's Opera House.
One could really get angry at Louis Johnson for "Fontessa and Friends." He dressed Donna Wood as the gaudy Fontessa and, predictably, undressed her into minuscule glitter, but he never let her dance. As for the friends -- a corps de ballet of fey and crotchy clowns, the little girl blue, the moody young man with open collar and almost billowing sleeves, and a Hercules who is her favorite -- sharper caricatures turn up in college revues. Johnson seems to be a cliche' maniac. There is no commentary, no turning inside out, just a reveling in cliche's of character, musical quotes, and a few, a very few, obvious steps and motions. Only the bodies were better than one is likely to see with sophomores.
Elisa Monte's "Pigs and Fishes" has, like her other work, fascinating notions. It is an all-women piece in which Monte makes a powerful statement about her sex through movement. Women are tenacious yet vulnerable and she shows it when, with outstretched hands clasped tightly together as if shackled, they swing their torsos forward or lean into a turn. Mari Kajiwara danced the opening solo, a sort of futuristic-primitive rite of spring. A half-dozen others joined her in a chorus and processional of silhouettes interspersed with solos. Despite the ideas and inventions, the incessant motion and the reiterative music of Glenn Branca wore their welcome thin.
The final premiere, Rodney Griffin's "Sonnets," tells the story of a sexual triangle. On the surface, the choreography has a Jose Limon look: Movement turns into abrupt gesture. There is too much smoothness, however, and too little incisiveness to create impact. Soon, one cares little that Dudley Williams' poet is abandoned by both his boy love, Ronald Brown, and Donna Wood as his lady. The Shakespearean music was by John Dowland.
It's difficult to believe, but "Revelations" has not been seen by a generation of new dancegoers in Washington. Outstanding in last night's performance were Stanley Perryman, the supple, strong "Daniel"; Maxine Sherman, heroic in the "Fix Me" stanza; and Dudley Williams for the linear tension of his "I Want to Be Ready."