In a hotel lounge or bar tightly shuttered against the realities of the outside world, nine people with nothing in common beyond their irrelevance pass the time drinking, dancing to a jukebox and casually bedeviling one another.
This is "Masekela Langage," Alvin Ailey's bitter 1969 dance suite dramatizing the social corruption of South Africa, a nation that Ailey depicted as repressed to a virtual standstill. (The desperate entrance of a fatally wounded rebel shatters the group's complacency only briefly; in the end, they walk over his body as if he's just a spill on the rug.)
A compelling performance of "Masekela Langage" proved the high point of the four-part Ailey company program on Sunday afternoon at the Wiltern Theatre. Set to music by Hugh Masekela, the work demands forceful showpiece-dancing with a honed dramatic edge, qualities most effectively embodied in Sarita Allen's portrayal of stifled, world-weary glamour.
In "The Winter in Lisbon" (1992), Billy Wilson fashioned a four-part tribute to Dizzy Gillespie, with some of the sequences emphasizing cool elegance and others funky heat. Initially clever and appealing, each section always seemed to run out of dance ideas before the music finished.
However, the character-dance interplay of the quintet unleashed some of the company's most irrepressible performers and the romantic duet found Nasha Thomas and Leonard Meek even more artfully in tune with one another than they had been in the repeat performance of Ailey's "Night Creature" earlier on the program.
A new cast for Brenda Way's "Scissors Paper Stone" failed to make the work seem any more credible than at its local premiere on Friday, but the whirling fury of Michael Thomas' performance would have been unforgettable any time, any place.
* The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Wiltern Theatre, at Wilshire and Western. Programs and casts change at nearly every performance. (310) 825-2101. $32 - $40.