IT ISN'T always easy to lure people to a dance performance. But mention that the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's in town, and eyes light up. This is one troupe that arouses special expectations -- dancers with limbs as elastic as taffy; dances both wrenching and hilarious; the uplifting sounds of spirituals, classic and contemporary jazz; an atmosphere of boundless energy and rhythmic vitality -- and just about always delivers.
In celebration of their 25th anniversary, they've brought with them a vast repertoire of works, including eight area premieres. Ailey's newest ballet, "For Bird -- With Love," focuses on the short life of the great sax player and composer Charlie Parker, and unfolds to music by Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Jerome Kern and, naturally, "Bird" himself. Former principal dancer Judith Jamison makes her choreographic debut with "Divining," a ritualistic group dance set to a percussion score by Kimati Dinizulu and Monti Ellison.
Another Ailey dancer-turned-choreographer, Ulysses Dove, has created both the movement and the decor for "Night Shade," a mystical sounding piece matched with composer Steve Reich's pulsing, repetitive "Drumming." Equally theatrical, but of a more realistic bent, is Talley Beatty's "The Stack-Up," a street drama about a gang, young and tragic love and the perils of drugs.
Longtime Ailey fans will be happy to know that, in addition to these and other recent works, the company will perform such perennial favorites as "Night Creature," "Cry" and "Revelations."
ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN DANCE THEATER -- Friday through Sunday at the Kennedy Center Opera House; repertoire differs at each performance.