To celebrate The Victory Dance Project’s first anniversary, an inspiring and spirited program was presented at The Ailey Citigroup Theater. There was a selection of the company’s dazzling dances and their First Annual Artist for Peace award was presented to Renee Robinson.
The personable and entertaining comedian Grant Cooper hosted the event. Mr. Cooper did a funny routine about an imaginary audition for The Alvin Ailey Company with clunky movements. Though humorous, as befitting the occasion he was often serious.
The beaming and radiant Ms. Robinson accepted her crystal teardrop award with a breezy, concise and seemingly spontaneous speech that paid tribute to all those who aided her in career and life and that included family, friends and colleagues, “People who believed in me and gave me a chance.” She also jocularly remarked on the importance of eating well and sleeping well for dancers. She was an Alvin Ailey dancer for over thirty years, working for his successors Judith Jamison and Robert Battle and is the last remaining company member selected by Ailey.
An informative short video was screened about The Victory Dance Project. In 2009, Ms. Jordan, a dancer, was run over by a bus in New York City. This accident mangled one of her legs. One option was amputation and she instead chose a grueling series of eighteen operations in order to keep it. Footage was shown of her consulting with doctors and that displayed the maimed leg. Following her recovery she founded this company last year and rehearsals with her choreographing dancers were shown. In addition to her catastrophic injury she has been diabetic since childhood. That illness resulted in her vision becoming impaired to the point of her becoming legally blind.
That the evening contained such an enthralling and lively collection of dances was remarkable and uplifting considering Ms. Jordan’s physical hardships. The overall style and unison of these often provocatively cryptic pieces had the precision of Jerome Robbins, the vibrancy of Paul Taylor, and the showmanship of Bob Fosse. All of the dances were choreographed by Ms. Jordan and co-directed by her and Gary Lewis.
Following a moment of silence to commemorate long-time Alvin Ailey dancer Dudley Williams who recently died at the age of 76, the evening opened with Big Fun. This was a joyous confection set to a recording of Barry Manilow’s swinging vocal of that song. Four male dancers in red shirts and black pants danced with four female dancers in black and white polka dot blouses and short black skirts. It was like a jazzy 1940’s Hollywood movie musical production number.
Imaginarium was a hypnotic solo with the regal and angular featured Florient Cador dancing to a dramatic recording of “My Funny Valentine,” by vocalist Erin Shields that was arranged and performed by the O Sole Trio with arrangement by David Shenton. The shirtless Mr. Cador performed in soaring modern dance glory twirling a jacket and landing on and gracing a red wooden bench. Was he searching for a lost love? Perhaps, or perhaps it all meant something else, but he was commanding and it was intriguing.
Wearing a long, slinky, rust colored dress, the statuesque Sharron Lynn Williams’ alluring and frenetic solo was the first part of the mysterious Thru the Looking Glass. The second part involved permutations of two male and female couples with spotlights on the floor that starkly contrasted with the darkness. The pulsing electronic music by Dead Can Dance added considerably to this moody sequence.
The concluding major piece was the five-part Human Revolution. It was a romantic fantasia involving the entire company and centered on a Sinatraesque fedora. This seamless epic began with a group of male dancers in dark pants and gray tank tops wearing black fedoras. A girl in black enters and ends up paired with one of the men as the others leave and they erotically spar. Women in red enter and eventually one clashes with the woman in black. A sunny group of woman in white appears. Throughout there are squabbles over the hat. It’s all visually and emotionally very involving.
Power had music by Afro Celtic Sound. Troubles With God music included “Natural Blues,” by Moby and “Glory Head,” by Portishead. Kelly Clarkson’s “Addicted,” was the source for Addicted. Don’t F—K with Me, had music by Lhasa De Sela. Lifetime used Beth Hart’s song of the same name, as did Soar by Christina Aguilera.
In addition to Mr. Cador and Ms. Williams, the dynamic company was comprised of Christopher Jackson, William Penelope, Saleem Abdullahi, Briscoe, DeAndre Cousely Jessica Israel, Alicia Lundgren, Erin Moore, Karen Niceley, Major Nesby, Ryan Rankine,Danielle Schlauderaff, Maggie Segale, and Kara Zacconi.
At the end of the dancers’ euphoric curtain call, Ms. Jordan made her way onstage from the wings. Glowing and resplendent in an elegant dress and with her reconstructed leg in view, she basked in the hard earned applause.
The Victory Dance Project: First Anniversary Celebration (June 3, 2015)
The Ailey Citigroup Theater, 405 West 55th Street, in Manhattan
For information visit http://www.victorydance.org
Running time: sixty minutes with no intermission