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March 20, 1977 - Image 8

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Michigan Daily, 1977-03-20
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Page Four


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members of the Alvin Ailey Ai
ican Dance Theatre were sprawle
erywhere, coaxing tight, achingr
cles into action. Then, with lim
pliant as silly putty, all energies
vergedwfor the rehearsal ofa
that would be performed befo
packed audience in just a few h+
Adrenalin surged and slowly, laye
woolen warm-up clothes were p(
off. Watching from the wings,
gan to get a feeling for the ph:
exhaustion that is part of a tot
dancer's contract. But more si
was the emotional strain-perfor

s ong



pe The



his group, there is usually "something
for everyone." In this respect, the
Ailey dancers are meant to be enter-
tainers. And if the intent is to please
a vast majority, its record of sold-out
houses attests to the company's suc-
Because the repertory is aimed at
capturing the masses, it has been des-.
cribed as "commercial." Robb Baker
complained, in a recent issue of Dance
Magazine, that the company has opt-
ed for the crowd pleasing,. sugar coat-
ed, what he calls, "gumdrop" ap-
proach. But if there has been a com-
mercial success at the expense of ar-
tistic achievement, it is an undeniable
fact that the quality of the dance

was well rounded, challenging her to
develop proficiency in many areas of
dance. "We performed modern and
classical works, took lab notation,
dance history--the whole bit," she
recalled. Upon graduation, Estelle had
a package she could peddle to the Ai-
ley Company. Today, an accomplished
27-year old, she has danced many of
the major roles in the repertory, and
not without profuse acclaim.
Yet, excellence is rarely achieved
without sacrifices and Estelle ennum-
erated a few. "Being with a company
that is noted for touring, and a rigor-
ous performance schedule, eliminates
much of a private life," she said.
What's more, she added that life on
the road can grow tiresome and mun-
dane at times. But dance is her ruling
passion; she caters to it and she
knows it well.
"A dancer has to be well rounded
to make it professionally," Estelle
said, emphasizing that today, chore-
ographers d e m a n d flexibility of
their artists for movement in classi-
cal, modern or jazz idioms. "Dance
has even become more acrobatic as
choreographers continue to experi-
ment and progress with movement,"
she said.
of the repertory for not challen-
ging such skilled dancers with "meat-
ier" works. Critics seem to feel that
in a work like John Butler's "Facets,"
the amount of pure movement is min-
imal while there is a profusion of the-
atrical devices. Estelle 'maintains,
however, that even though choreogra-
phers demand high technical skill,
"dances created today are less meaty."
A piece like Rudy Perez' "Count-
down," is a solo dance which commu-
nicates power in its stillness. Mean-
while, George Faison's "Hobo Sap-
e n s" features vibrant, constant
movement, but the theatrical devices,
--a mixture of props, costumes, lyrics
and lightig-conspire to overshadow
the relentless action.
BECAUSE IT IS classified as "dance
theatre", the Ailey company has
license to make much use of theatri-
cal devices. This has also contributed
to the company's popularity - the
showbiz element that people are fa-
miliar with. However, for someone
who wants a program of pure move-
ment or for someone who enjoys the
simplicity of a single prop, the white
scarf in Ailey's "Cry," or the elegant
parasol in 'Revelations," the basket-
ball, overcoat and trash can lids in
"Hobo Sapiens" can be somewhat dis-
Still, props are ony accessories to
the sophisticated expression of char-
acter in dance. "Much of our popular-
ity," Estelle says, "comes from the
freedom we have to interpret roles."
Rather than forcing his dancers into
a mold, Ailey lets each individual take
a personal approach to choreography.
Enhancing the variation in interpre-
tation is the fact that the Ailey group
is composed of an exciting mixture of
body types and dance backgrounds.
Since the emphasis is on individual-
ism in the Ailey ranks, there is room
for personal growth. "I have no hang
up about doing a role lice 'Cry,' a

piece made famous by Judith Jami-
son. I have my own personality and
my own physicality," Estelle asserts.
"I could never copy another's inter-
pretation. Performers need freedom;
copying is not an art."
dancers in the United States, did
not take up dance until his late teens.
"It's a constant catch-up for most
male dancers," he said during a break
in rehearsal before the company's
third Ann Arbor performance. "It's
not a status symbol for boys to take
dance lessons as it is for girls."
Ulysses, a tall, arresting man, has
been with the Ailey Troupe for three
years. "I started in high school with
modern dance clubs," he recalled.
Then, in pursuit of a medical degree,
he went to the University of Wiscon-
sin but was lured away from academZ
ics by the dance department there,
where he described the program as
"oriented both in ballet and modern."
It wasn't long before Ulysses grew
restless with his regimen and rerooted
himself in the East. At Bennington
College in Vermont, he finished his
undergraduate degree in dance. "Ben-

nington- was a good change for me.
The dance department was very into
the avant garde-very anti-techni-
que," he explained. "I had worked so
hard at technique, at attaining a
'skill' that I had not grown in a cre-
ative way. At Bennington we were
forced to create, to choreograph." -
Ulysses left Bennington for New
York, degree in hand, and launched
his career, dancing with Merce Cun-
ningham and Pearl Lang in New York.
"Nowhere is there such a concentra-
tion of dance--New York is fast and
hectic and ugly but I had to be there,"
he said. "You have to be completely
motivated to make it in New York. If
you have a single indecision about
dancing, get out."
ULYSSES'S EASY, articulate man-
ner became more intense as he
emphasized the dancer's prerequisite
- total self-discipline and drive.
"Teachers are there to help the moti-
vated. It becomes even more cruciak
today when ability-and skill are taken
for granted: choreographers are look-
ing for individuality, something spe-
Ulysses must have had "something

special" because he landed a position
in the Ailey company despite his late
start in dance. He doesn't see a late
start as a handicap for most male
dancers. "Part of the beauty of male
dancing is projecting the male image
which is created through experiences
of life-not through technique alone,"
he said. But after that note of opti-
mism, Ulysses added that "dance is
not a guaranteed trip. It is an extre-
mely intense art form because dance
is about the intensity of humanity."
As dancers whirled and lept, engag-
ing every inch of the stage,"Lois Fran-
heim, the company's touring director,
meandered around them and took a
seat in the empty house. She talked
about the financial complexities of
running a company over the din of
rhythmic clapping and chirping of
dancer instructing dancer in the
ha r crouindl

Franheim, "Money is always the big-
gest problem. And a big part of my
job is administering salaries and
transportation costs. It's a constant
struggle for survival - often it's very
disheartening, but working for the
arts makes it all worthwhile."
]RANHEIM, A TALL, distinguished-
looking woman, came to the Ailey
company after spending fifteen years
at ABC in a variety of positions. She
complains that the shortage of Fed-
eral funds for the arts indicates, "a
lack of set priorities on the part of
the government and a general ignor-
ance of the workings of performing
arts companies. If we continue to lose
support from the government, teach-
ers, administrators, technicians, mu-
sicians, dancers, and countless others
could find themselves out of a job."

tested b
work in;
ing prog
fulfill a
tions; tl
give le(
from th
ing is vE
yet with
size dep
fore the
pany wl
tion. Da
noon gr
way oul
stage do
of each
the rise

With the cutbacks of federal funds Along with the problems involved in
for the arts, the survival of many per- directing the finances of the Ailey
forming companies is tenuous. days organization, Franheim's talents are

trained their minds on the choreo-
graphy with complete attention and
The Ailey company has gained
much of its popularity through a uni-
que- combination of vivacity and tech-
nical prowess. But while the dancerst
are virtuoso technicians, the Ailey
breed-unlike many other major mo-
dern or ballet companies-displays no
aloofness in its approach to the art of
performing. When the dancers hum-
bly applauded the audience following
the multitude of curtain calls for "Re-
velations," the crowd and the per-
formers fused into one for a spirited
Of course, there's more than one ex-
planation for the Ailey company's
enormous appeal. The diversity of re-
pertory, for instance, makes the Ailey
style an anomaly in the world of mo-
dern dance. Because Ailey has allow-
ed other choreographers of diverse
backgrounds and styles to work with
Paula Hun/er, an occasional contributor
to the Daily's Arts Page, is an aspiring
dancer in the University's masters program.

they do has always remained high. An
evening with the Alvin Ailey Ameri-
can Dance Theatre means the excite-
ment of seeing 26 superbly trained in-
dividuals performing with beauty,
skill and zeal. The atmosphere is so
electric, it is almost difficult to ima-
gine a dancer at rest.
ESTELLE S P U R L 0 C K lounged
peacefully on a couch in her
dressing room. Though she was con-
serving heir energy for what promised
to be a strenuous evening on the
stage, she discussed with enthusiasm,
her life as a dancer.
A six-year veteran of the Ailey
company, Estelle's kinship with dance
extends way back to her early child-
hood. "I was born to dance, to move,"
she said, explaining that by the age of
three, she began to fulfill the pro-
phesy with her first lesson.
Hundreds of dance-hours later, Es-
telle enrolled in The Boston Conserv-
atory of Music. Though her early
training was mostly classical ("The
basis for all dance," according to Es-
telle , her undergraduate program

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