Last night's performance by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the fourth of this Kennedy Center Opera House run, saw the Washington premiere of a 31-year-old work, Todd Bolender's "The Still Point." Set to a Debussy string quartet, this work (in its second version) was created for Melissa Hayden and Jacques d'Amboise of the New York City Ballet. In its expression of emotion through the whole body and its freeing of the torso, it must have been an astonishing work for the ballet audience of its time.
For very different reasons it is still a problematic work. In some ways it is a work that the Ailey company is now uniquely qualified to perform. In this era of high-tech, new-wave cool, Ailey's is still a company that believes in passion; and it is this quality that allows these dancers to carry off what could, in other hands, seem a fusty, dated dance drama.
Its very theme seems to cry out obsolescence: A young woman, left behind by friends who have become interested in the opposite sex, eventually also finds fulfillment in romance. It is, however, open to some revisionist 1980s thoughts: Is it that brief assault by the men that scares her off sex? If so, is the quiet insistence of the man who wins her over sinister rather than reassuring?
That Donna Wood can dance the role originated by Hayden with complete strength and conviction is a testament to her place in today's pantheon of dancers. However, Rodney Nugent had technical difficulties with the d'Amboise role, and there proved to be some awkwardnesses and missing tension in the substitution of soft shoes for pointe shoes in this revival.
It might not, at first glance, seem such an astonishing thing. But that the other works on last night's program were choreographed by dancers who came up through company ranks is, in fact, something of a unusual situation in a modern dance company bearing the name of its founder. It alone is testament to Ailey's importance as teacher and inspiration for a whole generation of dancers.
Receiving its Washington premiere was Loris Anthony Beckles' "Anjour (Ruminations on Dudley)," a tripartite solo set to the music of Keith Jarrett that was choreographed last year in observance of Dudley Williams' 20th year with Ailey. And, indeed, the work cannot be judged apart from Williams' dance personality. It is a celebration of a dancer who with one small gesture can command an audience to focus on a lone figure on a vast stage.
Also receiving its first performance of this season was George Faison's "Suite Otis," billed as "A Tribute to the Late Otis Redding," whose songs accompany the work. It is also an exultation of the splendid technique and possibly even more splendid passion of the Ailey company. Faison has the dancers flinging their limbs, torsos and heads to their farthest reaches for the shortest amount of time.