Perhaps it was the intoxicating aura of Valentine’s weekend that charged the air at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Friday and Saturday, but the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater had an electrifying, heat-generating effect all its own in three programs of old and new repertory. Make no doubt about it: This company, teeming with dizzying precision and finely honed muscular beauty, is the Rolls-Royce of American dance.
Particularly riveting was Ulysses Dove’s “Urban Folk Dance” (1990), seen on the West Coast for the first time. To a tension-driven music track by Michael Torke, two pairs of dancers--Nasha Thomas and Don Bellamy and Linda-Denise Evans and Bernard Gaddis--created dueling pas de deux in adjacent spaces representing neighboring apartments.
Andy Jackness’ set is spare, the dancing tight, in this emotion-packed choreographic fugue, where the pairs confront one another across bare tables before members of each couple burst into the adjacent apartment. The men, brooding in T-shirts reminiscent of Stanley Kowalski, execute spectacular leaps and razor-sharp turns atop the tables; the women are pliant and feline.
Another familial work in its local premiere was “Fathers and Sons,” choreographed by Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith. Two generations work out life issues around the framework of a house (designed by Chris Muller) which also serves as a kind of jungle gym. As the boys and their fathers slide, slither and move on all fours to the sounds of Scott Killian’s music, two snaky females (Solange Sandy and Dwana Smallwood) vamp and entice in this sensitively engaging narrative.
Lar Lubovitch’s “Cavalcade,” set to a quintessentially minimalist Steve Reich score, is a breezy work for eight dancers against a backdrop of windblown streamers. New to the company, this piece (from 1980), though a visual feast of perpetual motion bursting with gorgeous lifts and sweat-drenched determinism, does show its age as the repetition factor occasionally becomes monotonous. Leonard Meek and Toni Pierce were winning in a duet juxtaposing ballet steps and sudden drops to the floor, while the lush finale, a Chinese ribbon dance, managed to elevate the work to an ethereal, all-smiles plane.
Donald McKayle’s “Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder” (1959), a piece about a prison chain gang, was given a noble revival on Saturday night. With their ripped torsos and fists clenched together, the men reflected the choreographic fascination with patterns in space as well as the desperate nature of their plight. Michael Thomas punctuated the drama with startlingly high leaps, and Renee Robinson, a symbolic dream fantasy for the prisoners, was as smooth as Hermes silk, dancing with purity and utter ease.
The wildly popular “Blues Suite,” an Ailey staple from 1958, kick-started the weekend with high-flying verve and the classic pain-pleasure syndrome that the blues evoke, while “The Winter in Lisbon,” with Billy Wilson’s sensual choreography and Dizzy Gillespie’s hot score, provided a passionate duet for the elegant Pierce and Gaddis on Saturday evening. No Ailey program seems complete without “Revelations,” which sprang to life with all its unbridled joys and sorrows, embodying the soul of Ailey, whose company--unquestionably the real thing--is at the peak of its powers.
* The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater presents different mixed bills Tuesday-Sunday at 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Wiltern Theatre, 3790 Wilshire Blvd., $13-$40. (310) 825-2101.