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Ailey Season Opens with Hot Premiere

December 5, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ The dancers were in excitingly top form and the new dance was a smash, as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater opened a four-week season at the City Center.

The work premiered on Wednesday night was ″Dances at the Gym,″ for eight dancers, choreographed by Donald Byrd. It’s very modern and virtuosic but it also flows. The music, commissioned from Mio Morales, is heavy on rhythm, sometimes several rhythms at once. Occasionally there’s a saxophone or bells to leaven the drums and pounding.

When it begins, the four men are on stage. Karine Plantadit dances a solo in front of them. When they approach, threateningly, she exits. She comes back and dances with them. Though they lift and turn her, she dances with spunk, her own person, liberated.

A number of times dancers stand on one foot and extend the other leg up in the air, doing remarkable splits in air. They dance in couples briefly and, in about the only nod to real high school dances, quickly separate into girls on one side of the room, boys on the other. But the evening ends in couples, embracing.

The most exciting couple was Elizabeth Roxas and Andre Tyson.

One of Alvin Ailey’s masterpieces, ″Blues Suite,″ opened the evening. It was danced to a recording of Brother John Sellers singing traditional blues songs. The men who danced ″Mean Ol’ Frisco″ looked strong and sexy. They were Desmond Richardson, Michael Joy, David St. Charles, Aubrey Lynch II and Tracy Inman.

The couple dancing in ″Backwater Blues″ usually turn that into a battle of the sexes. Tyson, dancing with Renee Robinson, had far too much savoir- faire for confrontation. He partnered Robinson with interested amusement, too cool to battle.

A good dance can be enjoyed in a new and different interpretation. That happened again as Debora Chase danced ″Cry,″ the three-part solo that Ailey choreographed for Judith Jamison in 1981.

Chase danced the first two parts with more deep feeling and poetry than we’ve ever seen, moving through space with fluidity. She was the picture of an artist at the service of art. The third part of the dance is theatrical and flamboyant. Chase’s legs didn’t seem long enough for the choreography there and her spirit was more subdued than showy so the dance didn’t end with the punch that Jamison and others have given it.

The evening ended with ″Memoria,″ which Ailey choreographed in 1979 after the death of a friend, modern dancer Joyce Trisler.

The company will be at the City Center through Dec. 29.

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