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Review: 'Festa Barocca' a glistening addition to Ailey repertory

March 20, 2009 |  5:30 pm

Festa The second night of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s current Music Center engagement opened silently Thursday with the stunning image of a teeming crowd reaching forward from a black void upstage.

It was as if the entire world, framed by an arch of bright white light, was coming toward the audience. Led or perhaps pulled forth by Hope Boykin (right), the 31-member troupe spilled  forward in a sea of swirling rich color -- an array of jewel-toned satin skirts with matching tops for the women, skirts and bare chests for the men.

So begins Mauro Bigonzetti’s “Festa Barocca,” a golden anniversary season premiere and a major addition to the company’s repertoire that offers a perfect vehicle for its many-faceted talents to gleam anew.

Bigonzetti, formerly artistic director of the Italian ballet company Aterballetto, clearly spent time with the Ailey dancers to learn what those talents were and to shape a playful yet technically demanding dance that not only showcases the strengths of individual dancers but also provides the whole cast with the opportunity to have a rolling good time together.

Boykin is part ribald court jester for the festivities, part medieval alchemist conjuring them before our eyes. In one especially delectable section, she calls out the Ailey men with a snap of her fingers, then proceeds to snap with them through a sequence integrating social dance moves and athletic balletic jumps.

Bigonzetti has a good time parodying the stiff proprieties of Baroque court conventions, but there’s a method to his madness. George Frideric Handel’s vibrant phrasing propels the dancers even as they breathe new life into it, sometimes by doubling the tempo.

Handel’s music may never have sounded, or looked, so beautiful as when Matthew Rushing matches note for note the ascending scales of a flute and harp piece with lightning flashes of sinuous energy.
Anchoring the suite is a series of duets that features both neoclassical variations, with the delicate Constance Stamatiou and Clifton Brown caught in an endless lovers’ knot of limbs, and comic relief, provided by Renee Robinson and Guillermo Asca.

In the final duet, Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims crackle and explode with passion, making easy work out of daring partnering combinations.

Bigonzetti also highlights the technical and comic gifts of Yusha-Marie Sorzano, Roxanne Lyst, Vernard J. Gilmore and Antonio Douthit.

Sims and Brown shone Thursday in Elisa Monte’s spare, sculptural duet “Treading” (1979), set to a recursive Minimalist score by Steve Reich. The program ended with Ailey’s masterpiece “Revelations.”

-- Sara Wolf

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A. 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $25-$105. (213) 365-3500

Photo: Hope Boykin in "Festa Barocca." Credit: Steve Vaccariello