Having taught Thomas DeFrantz’s definitive history of the company in my black performance class this past semester, I thought it might be nice to see Ailey perform again. It’s their 50th anniversary, and the hoopla includes a commemorative Barbie doll, a new PBS documentary, and official designation as “American cultural ambassadors”  (will they report to Secretary Clinton, I wonder?) All this says something about what an institution Ailey now is. And Americans approve of nothing more than success, so there were a lot of shiny, happy people in the crowd last night, and not all of them on stage.

For a New Year’s Eve show in mid-town Manhattan, the night’s program was low-key. No live accompaniment with Sweet Honey in the Rock or the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, as have been featured this season. They didn’t dance any new or even recent pieces, but I don’t think the type of audience looking to spend New Year’s Eve with Ailey, and be home in bed by midnight (this year, that was me) wanted anything other than what they got: classics performed exuberantly.

Twyla Tharp’s The Golden Section (1983), with music by David Byrne, brought flashbacks of the video for Toni Basil’s Mickey. George Faison’s Suite Otis (1971) was a touching if overly literal tribute to the great Otis Redding (but the section danced to “Try a Little Tenderness” was moving).  Treading (1979) was the Martha Graham-esque showcase for the company’s current stars: Linda Celeste Sims and Clifton Brown, whose acts of agility the crowd zestfully cheered on.  

The final piece was Revelations (1960), Ailey’s inevitable (which I’d never seen performed live). A man in the bathroom line said it would be better with a live gospel choir, and it probably would be. But it was good enough, and from our second row seats — near enough to see the frozen showbiz smiles on the dancers faces, and the mid-riff tattoos on their bodies — thrillingly alive enough as well.

The whole thing felt as Broadway as dance could get, but I don’t mean that as a put down. The Great White Way can still use all the color it can get.

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